Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival
The seventh program in the Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival included fourteen films shot in Super-8 or in 16mm in the last two years. Although most of the films had their interesting moments, ten of them were really "experimental movies" in the real sense of the word. It was very difficult to see a mature and fresh style that can be considered important in them. The rest, three films by Lewis Klahr and one by Robert Todd, went beyond just experimenting with the camera and achieved a real style that is moving and thought provoking.
Catherine Webster's Spillway was a good example of the first category of films I have mentioned. The images of water flowing out of a hose and parts of nature in the garden where we assume the hose is, all in close-ups, succeeded quickly one another. In each cut, the composition changed in a very significant way. For example, there were no two succeeding shots where the objects were in the same place on the screen. Moreover, the nature of the light also changed almost certainly in each shot. All these techniques break the continuity of the film, despite the fact that all objects are situated in the same garden, and we are forced to watch each image as a unit in itself. This "cubist" breakdown of space and time is interesting on its own but unfortunately Webster cannot use this to create a new rhythm or to give a deeper meaning to the objects.
Similarly, Eve Heller, in Her Glacial Speed, forms interesting images without being able to create a meaningful whole. Many of the images in the film have a foreground and background lit in different colors and in different intensities of light. Moreover, the camera is placed in such a way that the middle ground is almost non-existent. This breaks the three-dimensional illusion and makes us see the images as we see collages: two two-dimensional images placed next to each other. However, the way she edits these fascinating images with others proves that Heller either is not aware of or miscalculates the affect her images have on the viewer.
In contrast to the ones in the first category, Robert Todd's Clip was moving for its whole running time of three minutes. Steady images of a bleeding bird, of a building and of a prison-like interior are held on the screen no more than one second. As they are repeated all the time, after a while, we are able to distinguish the images and see their content. However, we are never able to study the compositions because of a lack of time. Similar to Spillway, the fact that the light and spacing in the frame changes all the time creates a discontinuity. However, interestingly, there are a few movements at the same time that we are expected to notice. First, the bird is moving each time we see it again. And then, in a more abstract sense, the compositions are edited so that there is always a movement of light.
In his website, Robert Todd says: "I had an idea that the imposition of a strict formulaic process to living imagery would drastically alter its appearance, much as the strict adherence to dogma can disfigure or even destroy a life." This statement proves he knows very well the way the meaning is created in his viewer's mind. Both the steady buildings and the process of recording the bird and editing it with a mathematical precision emphasize the idea of death. At the end, the rapid cutting stops and the negative of a flying bird in slow motion is on the screen for about 3 seconds. This would be a very short time for any other film but in a film where we are used to see images no longer than a second, it seems very long. It is a poetic moment where freedom and redemption are suggested in both the content and the form of the image.
It is probable that some of the films that are in my first category work in a level I did not comprehend. However, the program still proves that in experimental film, as in the mainstream cinema, very few artists can achieve works that are significant and valuable as a whole. The rest either tries to imitate the great filmmakers of the past without adding much on their own or to find new ways of seeing without understanding how the "new" images can be used to form a meaningful whole. Fortunately, there are filmmakers like Todd who can find new ways of seeing the world while balancing the form and the content
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