Thursday, May 9 | Cinematic Disruption
A curated selection of influential experimental films, ranging from early pioneers to modern-day disruptors, led into a partial retrospective of short works by Vanessa Renwick. Renwick is a contemporary experimental filmmaker from Portland who has been disrupting what “filmmaking” means from Portland for over two decades.
Thursday night's program ended with a conversation between Renwick and SEEN/UNSEEN curator Kim Voynar.
All run times listed in minutes.
Director: Stan Brakhage
Run time: 3:26
Essence of lepidoptera re-created between two strips of clear Mylar tape: an anima animation. What a moth might see from birth to death, if black were white and white were black.
Meshes of the Afternoon
Directors: Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid
Run time: 14:00
Meshes of the Afternoon is one of the most influential works in American experimental cinema. A non-narrative work, it has been identified as a key example of the "trance film," in which a protagonist appears in a dreamlike state and where the camera conveys his or her subjective focus.
Director: Sarah Katherine Arledge
Run time: 6:21
Introspection was the first abstract dance film made in the United States and pioneered the “cine-dance” movement.
Director: Ana Nedeljković
Run time: 7:24
Brainless Rabbits live in Rabittland, a perfect world ordered according to the most successful examples of war zones, ghettos and slums. They are intensively pink, have holes in their heads instead of brains, and they are happy regardless of what happens to them. They are the highest stage the evolution has ever reached. Their everyday life is completely fulfilled. The Rabbits spend days voting in free and democratic elections, which take place once a day, because Rabbitland is an ordered democracy. Nevertheless, it gets disclosed that the elections are organized by the Evil Girls, just for their fun and laughter.
Untitled (for Marilyn)
Director: Stan Brakhage
Run time: 11:00
An untitled hand-painted film – a hypnagogic four-part thought process interwoven with scratched words in thanks to and in praise of God.
Director: Vanessa Renwick
Run time: 55:47
Founder and janitor of the Oregon Department of Kick-Ass, Portland-based filmmaker Vanessa Renwick has been a fiercely independent defining voice of experimental cinema for over 20 years. Spanning two decades of her prolific career, the films exhibited in this partial retrospective showcase the range of Renwick’s body of work as an experimental artist. From her early film collage work Warning, which highlights the censorship of self and other by juxtaposing a series of “warning” signs against a relentless score, and Britton, South Dakota, a mesmerizing sliver of time captured and revealed through Dust Bowl-era found footage, to the deeply visceral abstraction of her later works layover and Kesh, this partial retrospective will allow the audience to experience a broad selection of works from one of the most influential and prolific experimental filmmakers working today.
Warning (1997) (4 mins)
A film collage that calls out to the paleomammalian part of our brain, director of adrenalin, orchestrator of the human flight or flight response. Warning takes a closer look at the many high-energy, red-alert messages that embed activities as mundane as street crossing and cooking. Within this awareness, heightened to hair-raising levels by Donovan Skirvin’s relentless and clever score, we find a disturbing pressure to succumb to a rising tide of censorship of self and other. Warning! Resist!
Britton, South Dakota (2003) (9 mins)
Ivan Besse managed the Strand movie theater in Britton, South Dakota, during the Depression. Besse owned a 16 mm camera and used it to shoot people at their various activities around town during the day. He screened the local footage before feature films and newsreels as a lure to entice paying customers into the theater. Most of his two-and-a-half hours of footage depicts townspeople walking down the street. There are also scenes of a barn being moved, a cornhusking contest and kids running out of a school. What really stands out is eight minutes of children’s portraits. The subjects – dressed in what appear to be their Sunday best – clearly had no notion of a movie camera. The lack of an overt narrative creates a sort of cinematic paper-doll environment. The film invites viewers to drape these images with futures, which have long since become histories. The drone of Johnne Eschleman’s accompanying melancholy organ composition casts a tragic shadow over these bright faces, one that may or may not have come to pass.
Kesh (2018) (3 mins)
“Always Coming Home
A white dog with blue eyes, returning home when old. A
people at home in the left coast wilds as the animals they are. Some half human.
North Owl, half person, raised by a woman of the matriarchal Valley, fathered by a passing Condor warrior. She said to me, ‘I am here.’
Little Bear Woman, Ursula. Leaping over and through, negative as positive, dreaming our flooded future's past. Lullabies on wings soaring forward. Ravens slowly spinning, slicing, a dance suspended. To go is to return.”
- Vanessa Renwick
This video was made for the re-release on LP of the cassette of Music and Poetry of the Kesh, a soundtrack that Todd Barton and Ursula K. Le Guin made to accompany Le Guin’s book Always Coming Home.
SF Hitch (2012) (5 min 17 sec)
A wolf dog’s restlessness prompts a pilgrimage from the burly sprawl of Chicago to investigate the myth of San Francisco. A hitchhiking triumph – even with the enormous canine companion, the camera-toting traveler never waited longer than five minutes roadside before “strangers in the brotherhood of hitchhiking” furthered the pair down the long road west. The narration showcases the filmmaker’s gift with words as well as images. Viewing the film, we become hitchhikers as well, drawn into the mesmerizing, flickering story. Highlights include encounters with famous beatnik writers and the acquisition of a Holy Grail that has since influenced Renwick’s bright career – a copy of James Broughton’s Seeing the Light, purchased, perfectly, at City Lights Books.
Red Stallion’s Revenge (2007) (7 mins)
Seventy-odd years ago, the set of the Hollywood Western was almost as crude as the message. Red Stallion’s Revenge reminds us, with much humor gained by the hindsight of modern technology, of how primitive art movies used to be. More seriously, the piece exposes the bombast behind the justification of utterly eradicating the wild to replace it with the herd. Throughout, the smooth crooning of Chris Sand and Trisha Lovgren slowly breaks our hearts.
Little White Horse (2010) (5 mins)
At Quasi musician Sam Coomes’ request, footage from Red Stallion’s Revenge was recut and edited to accompany the song Little White Horse from the 2010 album American Gong. In the re-cut, forest animals outnumber the humans and screen images recede in the face of the driving, scornful lyrics. The collaboration challenges the choices we make as humans: Do we live wild, risking battle? Or are we saddled with the trappings of modern convenience?
Stretcher (2001) (3 mins)
Crow images and portrait close-ups hover as a stilted narration describes the challenge, preparation and joy of an annual crow hunt, supported by crow calls. A feeling of danger seeps in with a looming, creepy organ score while the increasingly disturbing narration takes us deeper into this flickering world. A broken-winged crow, a woman in a wheelchair, a blind pedestrian with a seeing-eye dog, men with rifles marching with great purpose into the snowy forest. Life-fragile, broken, predatory-reflected.
CRACK HOUSE (2015) (2 min 30 sec)
Mosaic artist Jeffrey Bale, described by the New York Times as a “rock star,” transformed a former Portland crack house into a stone art paradise, an urban sanctuary and bird haven. CRACK HOUSE, edited in camera, is a cosmic burst of color and sound created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the introduction of Super 8 film.
Portrait #3: House of Sound (2009) (11 min 22 sec)
The Portrait Series is part of an ongoing series of filmed places, stories and histories of Cascadia with scores by musicians living in the Pacific Northwest.
In the 1950s, Williams Avenue had the most significant concentration of Blacks living in Portland. In the late ‘50s, pushing an "urban renewal" policy and exercising the power of eminent domain, the Portland City Council condemned almost the entire neighborhood to replace it with the Memorial Coliseum, Rose Quarter and Emmanuel Hospital. Edited film and an edited five-hour radio show dedicated to the memory of the House of Sound record store, this is a eulogy for the former community center and for all the places up and down the street that used to fill those empty lots, now unrecognizable as mixed-use, high-rise hyper-urban development.
layover (2014) (6 mins)
A swan song for the factory age. Every autumn, a South America-bound colony of Vaux’s Swifts numbering in the tens of thousands enjoy a layover in a Portland, Oregon, elementary school chimney. Sunset brings a vortex of swirling shapes, where each tiny piece combines to form a hypnotic, ever-changing pattern. An equinoctial rhythm beats in every swoop of the organic overhead spiral. The defunct industrial chimney is our own demise, and yet the relentless, fluid choreography of the tiny migrants signals a new start, the turning wheel.
Portrait #2 Trojan (2006) (5 mins)
The Portrait Series is part of an ongoing series of filmed places, stories and histories of Cascadia with scores by musicians living in the Pacific Northwest. The Trojan Nuclear Power Plant, with its 499-foot tall cooling tower, looms over its otherwise bucolic Columbia River setting. At the cost of $450 million in the 1970's economy (almost $3 trillion in today’s money), it remains the only commercial nuclear power plant ever built in the state of Oregon. The plant was beset by environmental concerns and citizen protest from the moment it began operations in 1975, due to it resting in close proximity to a fault line and suffering unplanned closures from leaking steam tubes and other operating issues. Shortly after Portland General Electric spent $4.5 million to defeat a ballot measure to shut the reactor down, the plant finally closed for good in 1993, after only 17 years in operation. With the river and its denizens as witnesses, at 7 a.m. May 21, 2006, in the first-ever implosion of a cooling tower at a reactor plant in the United States, Trojan fell. Portrait #2: Trojan is a sublime representation of the surrounding environment leading dramatically up to the moment of demolition. Sam Coomes’ flawless score provides stunning sonic context for the happy ending of the Oregon nuclear skyline. The film is an effective prescription in prevention of politically-triggered anxiety and depression in post-modern Cascadia.
Cold Holy Water (2018) (6 min, 20 sec)
The instrumental music by Marisa Anderson is a lament for Alan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian refugee boy who drowned in 2015, along with ocean waves and whale breath sound design mixed in. The images came to my mind for the 17 days that the orca whale mother pushed her dead infant around in the Salish Sea in the fall of 2018 in what biologists referred to as a "tour of grief." This piece to me is about migration. How animals other than humans migrate, but humans "immigrate," due to our imaginary and real borders. It is all the same movement. And how the ocean is a gigantic home to so many we know very little about, who are migrating all the time. Yet when humans go on the ocean to migrate, it is often treacherous and scary. And it is about hope for something better. And love of your offspring. And the mysteries of why the orcas are dying. And it is a peaceful slow and hypnotizing work, with the fluidity and beauty of the ocean's inhabitants, and the ocean itself, slowly bulging the edges of what we know. To be given the space and time to reflect on love, hope and loss.
In Conversation: Kim Voynar with Vanessa Renwick
Program time: 20:00
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