10/26/2020—11/2/2020

Between Pop Culture and the Avant-Garde

Little-Seen Films by Women from the Collection of Canyon Cinema

10/26/2020—11/2/2020 | 12:00 AM

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Curated and introduced by Tess Takahashi

Co-presented with Canyon Cinema Foundation

Ranging from 1970 to 1996, the films gathered here display unexpected images by women that comment on how we present and perform ourselves, both in private and in public, in relation to oneself and to pop culture. The program features work by Coni Beeson, Donna Cameron, Dana Plays, Alice Anne Parker Severson, Elizabeth Sher, Cauleen Smith, Greta Snider, and Jean Sousa.

Program:

Riverbody

(Alice Anne Parker, USA, 1970, 7 min., b&w, sound)

“A continuous dissolve of 87 male and female nudes” (Canyon Cinema Catalog). “The film’s fascination lies with the suspense of that magic moment, halfway between two persons, when the dissolve technique produces composite figures, oftentimes hermaphroditic, that inspires awe for the mystery of the human form” (B. Ruby Rich, Chicago Art Institute).

Women

(Coni Beeson, USA, 1974, 13 min.)

“Of the many films Coni Beeson made for the National Sex and Drug Forum in the 1970s, Women is the most overtly critical of mainstream media representations of women. Canyon’s Catalog describes it as ‘A sardonic film about the clichés laid on women.’ Her films often come with the following suggestions for use: ‘with persons as young as high school age, in a variety of groups seeking to deal with feelings and values about sexuality. Its richness of imagery makes it useable alone, or in combination with other material’” (Tess Takahashi).

Grain Graphics

(Dana Plays, USA, 1978, 6 min.)

“This short structural film feels like a playful dance that comments on the multiplicity of screens in our environment” (Tess Takahashi). “Grain Graphics... begins with two frames of a film strip, one above the other, occupying the middle of the screen, flanked by two vertical filmstrips with smaller frames. ln grainy negative, a small number of figures interact in various ways in each of the frames. Gradually, as if the camera were drawing away, this pattern grows smaller and its units increase correspondingly in number, until at the end there appear to be hundreds of rectangles, all with figures busy in motion” (Edgar Daniels, Filmmakers’ Monthly).

New Moon

(Donna Cameron, USA, 1987, 11 minutes, silent)

“Second in a series of paper films made from strips of color Xerography. In these films, the filmmaker is concerned with the film as an object or motion picture ‘soft sculpture’ constructed of 16mm-sized strips. The paper (or emulsion) could be a kind of skin complete with hair and pores, half-tone dots, paper fiber – through which the world is viewed.” (Canyon Cinema Catalog).

Swish

(Jean Sousa, USA, 1982, 5 minutes, silent)

Swish is a self-portrait taken at very close range” (Tess Takahashi). “This film deals with the physical properties of the film medium, and pushing those distinctive features to their limit. The subject of the film is motion, and it is an attempt to get inside of it. It was made with a moving subject and a moving camera with an open shutter, the result being that each frame is unique, without the smooth continuity that is expected in film. The subject, a female body at close range, provides an intimacy and eroticism. At the same time it can be seen as a modern version of Futurist simultaneity” (Canyon Cinema Catalog).

Too Young

(Elizabeth Sher, USA, 1982, 3 min.)

“To me, this film looks as if it was made by George Kuchar as a 13 year old girl making a music video in 1982” (Tess Takahashi). “Taking off where Brooke Shields left us in her Calvins, this film takes a hard, humorous look at the pressures and frustrations young people (women) (girls) feel as they rush out to explore their sexuality with all the taboos and fears that entails” (Canyon Cinema Catalog).

Portland

(Greta Snider, USA, 1996, 12 min., b&w)

“The film is a documentary road movie about travel, the fallibility of photographs, and the merging of memory and imagination… Portland reconstitutes the trip in a humorous mixture of footage from the journey (taken with a run-down Super 8 camera), interpreted re-enactments, and interviews with the involved parties. The result is a spirited look at independent women and fearless travelers” (Canyon Cinema Catalog).

Chronicles of a Lying Spirit (By Kelly Gabron)

(Cauleen Smith, USA, 1992, 6 min.) 

Chronicles of a Lying Spirit (By Kelly Gabron) is less a depiction of ‘reality’ than an exploration of the implications of the mediation of Black history by film, television, magazines and newspapers. Using her alter ego, Kelly Gabron, Smith fabricates a personal history of her emergence as an artist from white-male-dominated American history (and American film history). Smith collages images and bits of text from a scrapbook by ‘Kelly Gabron’ that had been completed before the film was begun, and provides female narration by ‘Kelly Gabron’ that, slowly but surely, makes itself felt over the male narration about Kelly Gabron (Chris Brown is the male voice). The film's barrage of image, text and voice is repeated twice, and is followed by a coda. That most viewers see the second presentation of the imagery differently from the original presentation demonstrates one problem with trusting any media representation” (Scott MacDonald).

Total Running Time: 63 minutes

Related reading: “Whose Avant-Garde?” by Tess Takahashi

About the Curator: Tess Takahashi is a Toronto-based scholar, writer, and programmer who focuses on experimental moving image arts. She is currently working on two book projects, Impure Film: Medium Specificity and the North American Avant-Garde (1968-2008), which examines artists' work with historically new media, and On Magnitude, which considers contemporary artists' work against the backdrop of Big Data and data visualization. Takahashi has been scholar-in-residence at the Film-Makers' Co-op in New York City (2015), at Canyon Cinema in San Francisco (2016-17), and the Canadian Filmmakers' Distribution Center in Toronto (2017-8). She is a member of the experimental media programming collective Ad Hoc and the editorial collective for Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media. Takahashi's writing has been published there as well as in Cinema Journal, Millennium Film Journal, Animation, MIRAJ, and Cinema Scope.

About Canyon Cinema: Founded in Bruce Baillie’s Canyon, California backyard in 1961, Canyon Cinema is dedicated to educating the public about independent, non-commercial, experimental moving image art. We manifest this commitment by providing access to our unrivaled collection to universities and cultural organizations worldwide, as well as cultivating scholarship and appreciation of artist-made cinema. Canyon Cinema’s unique collection traces the vital history of the experimental and avant-garde filmmaking movements of the past century. With a strong emphasis on American West Coast and San Francisco Bay Area artists, we are the access point to 3,400 groundbreaking works, representing 280 artists.