16mm Dive Jan 19th 2023 – Come Home Journal #4
Signing up for the Experimental Film course (BAL#3) was easy. I was late in applying however my desperation must have won them over (worn them down). When I focus hard on things it makes invisible any other possibility. BAL Lab (Baltic Analogue Lab) is in Latvia, so sometimes there were days between emails. When I’ve written an email I tend to figuratively walk away until the reply arrives. When it doesn’t I get a kind of knocking sound that I can’t place. Like a flashing question mark, exclamation point and asterisk on high rotation until I work out the thing they point to, just beyond my vision.
If this energy was harnessed I could light small cities for days with my dilemmas!
They opened the online door, an agreement signed, accepted a part payment to test international transfer, and got me sorted for the first session. This kicked off a research rabbit warren that took days to find the light. When I did see the light I realised I’d signed up to a six-month weekly online session of two hours live at 5am AEDT. I know!
It turns out getting up at 4.40pm chucking on a jumper and lipstick is easy when the sessions are so full of depth, inquiry and knowledge of analogue film, its makers and their demons.
In the dark I have developed ways to make it easier to keep sleeping dogs sleeping. Betty (puppy) did not sign up for this. I prep the evening before for my sleepy brain, my stumbly feet and for moving stealthily in the dark. The night before I set up my teapot and teacup on my desk, put my jumper on my chair and my lipstick on top of that. The order is important. I set my new course notebook and pen (analogue) within easy reach. And go to bed early-ish. I am ready.
The first sessions throws me straight into the deep end (I learn a few weeks later I missed the introductory session!). I feel wide awake in the half-dark, this is where my mob has been hiding in plain sight. The history of experimental film is tossed about – names of filmmakers, film stock, film titles and long discussions about using the term ‘experimental’ to define this movement. A phase sticks for me – ‘films are so often in service to the other arts’. They are stories from books, they are images that support music, they are documents and recordings, they do not draw attention to themselves, they often work to put an audience in stupor. Experimental works assume the audience needs to actively work for meaning – like all good art.
‘Experimental’ is not my first choice for language to describe or group the works I create. That term implies experimenting as artful play, creators not knowing the final result. ‘Filmmakers’ seems a good term, denotes the making of films, though it has either an amateurish feel for small productions or the financial imperative of large scale commercial productions. Again neither are true. Ironically through Deren (see below) believed amatuerism to be akin to freedom, exactly because it was not tied to profit.
“What might I have seen of yours?” someone responded to me being called a ‘filmmaker’.
“What films do you see?”
“Anything that’s on!”
I prefer terms like ‘art film’ or (the understandably potentially wankerish) ‘cine artist’, because my work is ‘other’ and as much of the cinema as it is of film. And it is film or moving image, not video. I have limits.
The course revealed filmmaker Maya Deren, who I was introduced to at film school. An experimental filmmaker in the 1940s/50s, she was a choreographer, dancer, poet, writer, and cinematographer/photographer. Her ground breaking films Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) and At Land (1944) both silent films that set the scene for many filmmakers after her who worked to reveal film and camera as tools in the way that paintbrushes are the tools of the visual artist. She wanted film to be seen as an art, unique and to itself.
Saying Hollywood “has been a major obstacle to the definition and development of motion pictures as a creative fine-art form.” She also said “I make my pictures for what Hollywood spends on lipstick.”
Discovering Chick Strand is such a highlight. A woman of extraordinary depth of works that I had never heard of previously. In Waterfall she uses found footage and an optical printer to create beautiful mesmerising visual poetry and patterns dancing like live Rorschach checking your emotional stability. Her work is entirely analogue, mostly with prints held in a few archives in America (The Filmmakers Co-Op) and Europe (Lightcone).
The works of Alexandre Larose, particularly the series Brouillard, created in camera and screened in expanded cinema format, is breathtaking. He walks the same path to the pier, rewinds the film and walks it again and again, up to 70 times if the film can hold together that long. The works don’t need editing (just taping together where the film breaks), so it is called ‘in-camera’ because all the physical light capture work is done there, in the camera. The emotional work of course is done in the heart and head of Larose. This work of his made me feel as though my body was boneless, languidly flying out behind me as my eyes followed the mesmeric blurring trees and water. Entering another world, as observer, time floated passed me again and again.
These artists’ works exists online in places you might consider ‘underground’ in the real world. David Lynch says if you are watching films on your phone, you haven’t really seen them.
Living and working in a regional area (Wadawurrung Country), I am grateful to see these films at all. But I can’t help imagining what they would be like in person. I believe analogue film captures light while digital is a copy of that capture. Have you seen the Mona Lisa if you haven’t stand in front of her? Therefore projections in analogue are the only options to share that light capture.
So without thinking too much about how we in Australia will move to AEST soon, and the online classes therefore start at 4am (3.45am for lipstick), I’m sitting pretty (with lipstick).
IMAGE CREDIT: Precious Fragments image still by Erin M McCuskey