Sunday, May 27, 2012

Bruce Baillie and others (Experimental Cinema, Summer 2012)

To kick off their Summer program at the Lightbox, The Free Screen will be screening Bruce Baillie’s Quixote, "the Baillie film most in need of rediscovery" according to The Free Screen programmer Chris Kennedy, and All My Life with Arthur Lipsett’s 21-87, and Joshua Romphf’s Ride This Country (May 30th, 7PM), a portrait of a southern Ontario farm, with Romphf in attendance. The Free Screen summer schedule will also include the programs Liquid Metal (June 20th, 7PM), a series that explores the changing textures of new digital effects; Fractured Movement / Constituent Parts (July 18th, 7PM), whose centerpieces are the restored work of Los Angeles avant-gardist Gary Beydler, and with works by Alexandre Larose and Alexi Manis who will be in attendance; and Jonathan Schwartz: The Skies Can't Keep Their Secrets (August 15th, 2012). On the subject of experimental-films, there are also the Pleasure Dome screenings of the recent work of Basma Alsharif at A Space Gallery (June 2nd – July 14th); James Richards recent videos at Cinecycle (June 2nd, 7PM) and a conversation between Richards and Steve Reinke at The Power Plant (June 3rd, 3PM); a book launch and screening of the short movies of Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby at Cinecycle (June 15th, 8PM) and artist talk with Mike Hoolboom (June 16th, 2PM); Robert Frank’s Me & My Brother at the Courtyard (July 21st, 9PM); an Open Screening at the Courtyard (August 11th, 9PM); and screenings of performance art curated by Johannes Zits at Artscape Gibraltar Point (August 19, 7:30PM). The next Early Monthly Segments will feature Ute Aurand, Ulrike Pfeiffer and Marie Menken at the Art Bar in the Gladstone Hotel (June 11, 8PM), as well they will continue their programming into the summer. As part of the TIFF Cinematheque First Peoples Cinema program, Kate MacKay programmed Chick Strand's Anselmo Trilogy a three-part look ath the Mexican native Anselmo Aguascalientes (July 11th, 6:30PM). And to keep up-to-date on all experimental film related screenings in Toronto make sure to keep checking out John Porter’s website super8porter.

To discuss Baillie it is relevant to bring up the book Radical Light: Alternative Film & Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945-2000 as Baillie is most readily known as one of the grandfather figures of the San Francisco experimental film community.

The book Radical Light which is edited by Steve Anker, Kathy Geritz and Steve Seid is described by film critic Nicole Brenez as being "a scientifically and visually magnificent survey". The title, Radical Light, according to Seid, “emerges from this sense of a cinema that considers its origins in a substrate of emulsion and luminescence.”  And, according to Anker, “They were filmmakers, many of them not-so-recovered painters and poets, ill at ease with cinema as an entertainment but rather fondly fixated on the apparatus, the alchemy of light and chemistry, and their own eccentric admixture that might make this all art.” In the books two introductions by Seid and Anker, what is highlighted is the Bay Area's topography, from Anker’s introduction A Haven for Radical Art and Experimental Film and Video, the Bay Area “remains unsurpassed as a place where artists using film and video for personal expression choose to live.” The history of this art form, as Seid brings up in Form from the Fog: A Book Takes Shape, "begins in the late nineteenth century, in 1878 in nearby Palo Alto. It was then that Eadweard Muybridge began his pioneering experiments with the photographic image and the incremental improvements that would result in the motion picture.” The avant-garde film flourished in San Francisco after World War II with people like Sidney Peterson. In Scott MacDonald’s essay, Art in Cinema: Creating an Audience for Experimental Film, things started, in the fall of 1946, with the San Francisco Museum of Art which had a film series Art in Cinema, organized by Frank Stauffacher, that focused on “avant-garde films in modern art forms - surrealist, non-objective, abstract, fantastic.”” The series was called Art in Cinema which was “established to present a more vigorous and liberated attitude towards the film medium.”  The popularity of experimental cinema was connected not only with advantageous exhibition venues, but also with the educational institutions that taught production and appreciation of experimental film and video, and media arts centers that fostered it.

Baillie was one of the founding members of Canyon Cinema in 1961, “a nomadic group presenting underground programs in different settings, and developed into a small organization that presents a regular series, produced by artists and curators,” which was named after the small town of Canyon which is just outside of Oakland. Canyon Cinema later became the San Francisco Cinematheque.

Baillie, as Kennedy describes him, “has forged a singular path in his visionary explorations of the world, his exquisite treatment of light and fragmented storytelling influencing successive generations of like-minded filmmakers.” Radical Light includes a really nice artist page by Baillie, which includes a picture of him as a boy with his dog, a younger picture of him in an open field carrying a camera on a tripod, and a few colorful figural sketches. Michael Sicinsky's contribution, The Bay Area as Cinematic Space in Twenty-five Stops or Less, includes Baillie’s All My Life, and Sicinsky writes, “Bruce Baillie’s lasting achievement (in this and all his films) is his attention to the living surfaces of the physical world, the way he allows them to disclose themselves.” While in Canyon Cinema: The Early Years – Interviews with Bruce Baillie, Ernest Callenbach, Chick Strand, and Emory Menefee by Kathy Geritz, Baillie talks about the aura around the early screenings, programming criteria, and projection details. Bailie: “Years of fun, work, and thoughtful exchange, covering perhaps everything under the sun!” 

David Davidson

“This visually exquisite masterpiece of minimal-budget, low-tech filmmaking has nothing to do with the Castro Street of San Francisco’s gay district, or with Fidel Castro of Cuba. Named for a Spanish land grantee, Castro Street, in Richmond, California, is a gritty industrial byway lined with refinery structures, railroad switchyards, omnipresent power lines, and the general detritus of modern heavy industry. Bruce Baillie, with his magical eye, has taken these unpromising materials and constructed a flowing lyric poem. Its steady rhythm of pans and dissolves is set by the ponderous motion of trains over a sound track bass line of industrial noises: bangs, regular beats, whirrs, clangs, toots. Baillie makes iris effects in the camera; he softens and blurs the imagery, perhaps with Vaseline on the lens; he distorts images, perhaps with mirrors; he catches a gorgeous palette of colors in the wasteland; he twists human voices into abstract sounds; he runs some images in negative color. This elegant playfulness combines the half-recognizable, the luminously abstracted, and occasional flashes of ordinary vision: train wheels, yellow earth-moving machinery, flowering lupines glowing purple, corrugated iron. Yet everything is carried along with the flow, the dance of exploration and perception: this is what we can see, if our inner eyes are open. Castro Street is a meditation on the reality of our industrial condition, not redeeming it, but transcending it." - Ernest Callenbach on Castro Street (1966)

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