Photo: Still from Light is Calling, Dir. Bill Morrison

Bill Morrison, Guy Sherwin, Jürgen Reble, Thomas Köner, Various Artists & William Basinski

Film Programme 2: Celluloid

Each film in this programme celebrates process; the decay of emulsion, the properties of dust and dirt, the manipulation of time.  Post the dawn of the digital age, we reflect on our love of the film form, celluloid as an object, a medium and a physical entity.
 
Trailer for 1000 Films, Dir. James Elaine, USA, 1998, 2 mins 30 secs, Beta SP
Music: William Basinski
 
When James sent me the footage that was used for Trailer for 1000 Films, I had just discovered an amazing loop from the early eighties that I had completely forgotten about.  I was listening to it when I put the film on and was fascinated by the way the melody timed with the footfalls of the people and by how the mood of the music created such a sense of melancholy that seemed to capture the feeling of this apocalyptic footage.  Typical of our low-tech, no-budget approach, the footage was transferred to video with a cheap little screen and camera.
 
James shot the footage on super-8 during a ticker-tape parade in the Lower Manhattan/ Wall Street area.  He has been shooting these parades for as long as we have been in NY whenever they happen. We chose the couple as the obvious stars of the film…matching perfect 40’s style suits, matching briefcases, walking in step through this landscape -impermeable as a team, The main melody is in 3/4 time like a waltz, so it became a sort of pas-de-deux, they are together, they separate, they come back together, she disappears into the darkness leaving him alone, the end…a pas-de-deux for the apocalypse. (William Basinski)
 
 
Structural Filmwaste. Dissolution 1, Dir. Siegfried A Fruhauf, Austria, 2003, 4 mins, Beta SP
 
At first Structural Filmwaste seems to be a reaction to the aesthetics and methods of past Austrian avant-garde films: leftover footage (Ernst Schmidt Jr.) was put together according to rigid plans (Kurt Kren) and shown in a split screen, one panel delayed slightly. While it follows an almost musical structure, the footage with recognisable images later disappears in a rhythmic sequence of the basic visual elements of black and white frames. (Peter Kubelka)
 
Fruhauf, whose earlier works were also made as a kind of “handicraft”, succeeded in embedding a paradigm switch in his homage to film art. Waste material from the darkroom was stacked and exposed in such a way that the edges of the frame, the splices, scratches, frame lines and sprocket holes, are now visible. The footage gradually undergoes a transition to a whiteness which is obviously digital in nature. What were scratches in the film strip’s emulsion now resemble the dark lines in a grainy video image. The analogue film image is replaced by the electronic video image, and the haptic quality of the material makes way for the purely optic nature of a two-dimensional white field generated by a computer. Not only the image but the medium, the material itself proves to be illusory, the original cinematographic apparatus has long since disappeared. (Gerald Weber)
 
 
Chicago, Dir. Jürgen Reble, Germany, 1996, 13 mins, 16mm
Music: Thomas Köner
 
This film was provoked by a trip on the overhead railway through the centre of Chicago in 1991. I filmed a twelve minute piece facing forwards in the direction we were driving. Three years later I came across the film material once more. The memory of it had faded, and its images were just as vague. So I worked on the material using a bleaching bath. The complex, cuboid-like architecture of the city came out in a test of the substantial and then sank back into the minority - dissolving to a lump of cosmic dust. I was first able to identify a projection of the experienced, within the undercurrent of disintegration. Many years passed by and dust settled on the filmcarrier. Sound researcher Thomas Köner ran the dust through the optical sound system on the projector and a crackling sound could be heard. He then undertook a more exact examination of this dust-noise. Ultimately a tone composition came to fruition, which I transferred onto the final copy of the film in the form of an optical soundtrack. (Jürgen Reble)
 
 
At the Academy, Dir. Guy Sherwin, UK, 1974, 5 mins, 16mm
 
Makes use of found footage hand printed on a simple home-made contact printer, and processed in the kitchen sink. At The Academy uses displacement of a positive and negative sandwich of the same loop. Since the printer light spills over the optical sound track area, the picture and sound undergo identical transformations. (Guy Sherwin)
 
The ‘academy leader’ is a standardised length of film which provides a visual countdown intended to assist projectionists with timing and focus; it is not usually seen by audiences, Guy Sherwin loops and repeat-prints this imagery to develop transformations and layers of superimpositions. (Tate Modern)
 
 
Synch Sound, Dir. Takahiko Iimura, Japan, 1975, 12 mins, 16mm
 
Using the system of academy leader: 10 to 1, the film replaces the number to white space with bip sound (clear leader) gradually until it reaches to complete white. (Takahiko Iimura)
 
 
Passage à l'acte, Dir. Martin Arnold, Austria, 1993, 12 mins 16mm
 
Four people at the breakfast table, an American family, locked in the beat of the editing table. The short, pulsating sequence at the family table shows, in it’s original state, a classic, deceptive harmony. Arnold deconstructs this scenario of normality by destroying its original continuity. It catches on the tinny sounds and bizarre body movements of the subjects, which, in reaction, become snagged on the continuity. The message which lies deep under the surface of the family idyll, supressed or lost, is exposed – that message is war.
 
The first shock, the first flight, the fear at the beginning of the film: the son jumps up from the table and throws open the door which sticks in an Arnoldian loop of hard, hammering rhythm. He is compelled to return to the table by the mechanically repeated paternal order, “Sit down”. And at the end, when the two children spring up, finally released from their bondage, Arnold is again caught at the door; at the infernally hammering door, as if it were completely senseless to try to leave here - this location of childhood and two-faced cinema. (Stefan Grissemann)
 
 
Outer Space, Dir. Peter Tscherkassky, Austria, 1999, 10 mins, 35mm 
 
A premonition of a horror film, lurking danger: A house — at night, slightly tilted in the camera’s view, eerily lit — surfaces from the pitch black, then sinks back into it again. A young woman begins to move slowly towards the building. She enters it. The film cuts crackle, the sound track grates, suppressed, smothered. Found footage from Hollywood forms the basis for the film. The figure who creeps through the images, who is thrown around by them and who attacks them is Barbara Hershey. Tscherkassky’s dramatic frame by frame re-cycling, re-copying and new exposure of the material, folds the images and the rooms into each other. It removes the ground from under the viewer’s feet and splits faces, like in a bad dream.
 
From the off, from outer space, foreign bodies penetrate the images and cause the montage to become panic stricken. The outer edges of the film image, the empty perforations and the skeletons of the optical sound track rehearse an invasion. They puncture the anyway indeterminate action of the film. Cinema tearing itself apart, driven by the expectation of a final ecstasy. Glass walls explode, furniture topples over. Tscherkassky puts his heroine under pressure, drives her to extremes. Time and time again she appears to hit out against the cinematic apparatus, until the images begin to stutter, are thrown off track. Outer Space is a shocker of cinematographic dysfunction; a hell-raiser of avant-garde cinema. It conjures up an inferno which pursues the destruction (of cinematic narrative and illusion) with unimaginable beauty. (Stefan Grissemann)
 
 
Light is Calling, Dir. Bill Morrison, USA, 2003, 8 mins 50 secs, 35mm
Music: Michael Gordon
 
A deteriorating scene from James Young’s “The Bells” (1926) was optically reprinted and edited to Michael Gordon’s 7 minute composition. A meditation on the fleeting nature of life and love, as seen through the boiling emulsion of an ancient film.
 
As in my full length work "Decasia" (67 min., 35mm, 2002), "Light Is Calling" reunites the splendors of decaying celluloid with the music of Bang On A Can co-founder Michael Gordon. The original scene from James Young’s “The Bells” was elongated, and then double-exposed back onto itself, each frame co-existing with an adjacent one. This technique gives the film a quality of continual metamorphosis and impermanence. The scene was edited to Mr. Gordon’s haunting score, as interpreted by Todd Reynolds. The music and images together seem to conjure a sense of unrecoverable longing. (Bill Morrison)
 
Below are some online links which you can use for reference. To see the films in their original glory, check with the distributors of the films for their terms and conditions.
  • At the Academy, Dir. Guy Sherwin

  • Passage à l'acte, Dir. Martin Arnold

  • Outer Space, Dir. Peter Tscherkassky

  • Light is Calling, Dir. Bill Morrison