The University of Chicago’s Film Studies Center has been having a fantastic year so far when it comes to experimental cinema. Hot on the heels (-ish) of their “Troubling the Image” series, last night they booked Lewis Klahr’s twelve-part, feature-length Sixty Six (2015), for what is I believe its Chicago debut.
Klahr was there in attendance, taking part in a very animated Q&A after the screening. I don’t think I’ve ever attended a Q&A with such an extreme questions-asked-to-time-filmmaker-talked ratio, and while some might have accused Klahr of self-indulgent rambling, I really rather enjoyed his tangents, and found that he had quite a lot of fascinating points to make about his process.
Well, you can’t win ’em all. Over-ambition gets to the best of us, and sometimes a somewhat incoherent lesson is the result. Consider this post to be less of a how-to guide, and more of a postmortem on what is clearly still a work-in-progress.
Migration is a topic that, from the beginning, I knew I wanted to tackle in my Avant-Garde Film and Video Art course this term. US immigration reared its head quite explicitly in my week spent on Bill Brown’s The Other Side, but I also wanted to try out some more conceptually far-flung approaches to the topic. Key here were two texts: Hito Steyerl’s article “In Defense of the Poor Image,” which re-casts image quality as an image of global politics, turning a close eye on how media objects circulate around the world in the current neoliberal order, and Jacqueline Goss’ video Stranger Comes to Town (2007), which tells tales of entry into the US that have been metaphorized into World of Warcraft machinima.
I thought I could draw out some sort of grand theme from this material, about how the circulation of images maps on to the migration of people in our contemporary political regime. It turns out I wasn’t really up to this task. And it’s a shame, too, because I dearly love the videos I assembled for this week, and wish I could have done better by them.
[Update: I asked for feedback in the last day of class, and it turns out that several students actually really liked this class session. They thought its sketched-out argument left them room to think, and really appreciated having to fill in the blanks themselves. Apparently, for some students, it was perfect seminar material. Their only real complaint was that I could have expanded this material, and stretched it out over several weeks! So take the self-criticism in this post with a grain of salt, I guess.]
2017 marks the year of animator David OReilly’s return to to the medium of videogames, following up on his strange and serene digital-art-toy-screensaver-thing Mountain (2014). His new game, Everything, released on PS4 on March 21st, and releases on Windows, Mac and Linux this Friday.
The game’s title, Everything, is also the game’s premise: It is a game about everything. Specifically, it is a game in which players can be everything, switching at will from trees to koalas to rocks to quarks and back. I haven’t had a chance to sit down with it yet—I suspect I’ll make time for it once it’s out for PC—but I did want to take the advent of its multi-platform release as an opportunity to muse on this premise’s history in gaming.
Everything may be the first game that explicitly promises to allow us to be everything, but games have previously offered the ability for us to step into the role of quite a lot of things, including a surprising range of inanimate objects. “The child plays at being not only a shopkeeper or teacher,” wrote Walter Benjamin, “but also a windmill and a train.”[i] Games have proved to be a continuing outlet for this childhood animist fantasy—why, in just a couple weeks’ time, we’re going to be able to play as a coffee mug!
Join me, won’t you, in a breezy tour of some of the stranger things games have let us be.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m hesitating to call write-ups of classes in the section of “Avant-Garde Film and Video Art” I’m teaching this semester “lesson plans.” The course discussion I’m reporting back on often proceeds more from my students’ on-point engagement with the films than it does from any carefully-planned questions on my part. I still want to post some details on this blog, though, because I’m certainly learning a lot about how to tackle these subjects in the future, and would love to share.
Up today: two animated films, one of which unexpectedly became one of the most contentious things I’ve shown so far in any class.
Sound and film have been ubiquitously grouped together since the development of sound in cinema in the mid 1920s. Last week, we covered what sound and music are in relation to film, how sound aids or detracts from visual cinema, and the differences between sound and music. Sound, in relation to picture, usually comes second in the process of making a film. In traditional cinema, the sound of the film is often determined by the visuals. But what happens when an artist creates a film where sound is the dominant medium? When sound determines the visuals of an avant-garde film, Visual Music is created. This type of film includes work by Mary Ellen Bute, Oskar Fischinger, Norman Mclaren, and Stan Brakhage.
Any occasion to see a new film by Janie Geiser is a happy one, but I am especially lucky in that the context in which I saw Flowers of the Sky (2016) was during the inaugural screening of “Troubling the Image,” a series of recent (or recently-restored) avant-garde/experimental films being put on at the University of Chicago’s Film Studies Center. Programmed by Julia Gibbs and Patrick Friel, the series promises to be a stream of delights, and I’m hoping to post some more dispatches from it in the future.
There was plenty of great work on display in this first screening, entitled “Color My World.” (I was especially glad to see more videos from T. Marie, whose work I had fallen behind on in recent years. 2014’s Panchromes I-III certainly did not disappoint, together forming one of the greatest examples of “cinema as painting” that I can think of.) But I’ve decided to limit my thoughts here to Geiser, and Flowers of the Sky.
Grades for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Fall 2016 semester were due today, and I wanted to take the occasion to do a quick postmortem on “Comedy and the Moving Image,” which I consider to be the most successful course I taught this term—as well as one of my most fun and productive courses ever taught. I’ve posted several lesson plans from this course already throughout the past couple of months. Links to those will be provided below, as I sketch out a skeletal version of the course’s themes, and some of its most interesting surprises.