Friday, January 16, 2015

Short Experimental Western: The Magical Dead Sunstroke Valley

A film combining the mythology of the Hollywood/Spaghetti western, Tarot, magic, occult, Jungian psychology, and mysticism with flamboyant, multi-layered, supersaturated imagery.

Multiple narratives conflict and adhere. Meanings emerge and contradict. Music and dialog tell another layered story, sometimes agreeing with the images, sometimes trying to subvert them.

A film should be a container for the psychic unconscious energy of its creator. That is what this is.

There is also a commercial.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Experimental Film Great Stan Brakhage Interviewed in 1973

This is a fascinating 1973 television interview of the great American experimental filmmaker, Stan Brakhage. He made a fantastic career utilizing mostly the technique of painting, scratching, and inking directly on the surface of the celluloid. His films are mysterious, mesmerizing and absolutely gorgeous. They are also profound works of art. Here, Brakhage talks to documentary filmmaker Robert Gardner about his filmmaking philosophy and techniques. Several of his films are shown as he makes comments about them. This is essential viewing if you are interested in experimental film.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Dream Work: A Film by Peter Tscherkassky

Austrian filmmaker Peter Tscherkassky works with found footage to create layered films that disturb our casual acceptance of those seemingly everyday tasks performed in cinematic stories. The simple act of walking into a room and drawing the shades can become a hallucinatory experience containing dread. The few films of his that I have seen create suspense from the ordinary. Sounds are repeated and magnified. Shots jitter and jump, repeating in a staccato nervousness that suggests confusion, hysteria, horror.

Dream Work makes the connection between filmmaking and the unconscious obvious. It explodes scenes from a Hollywood movie to reveal the hidden dream forces contained by cinema itself. The rush of fluidly changing points of view reaches a crescendo and breaks down into sprocketed film strips and hands editing celluloid to make palpable the dream content of all films. Working with the material of dreams is what Tscherkassky seems to be doing.

Visit the filmmaker's web site.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Birth of the Robot: 1936 Experimental Advertising Film by Len Lye for Shell Oil Company

In 1936, experimental filmmaker Len Lye made this short surreal animation to advertise the benefits of Shell oil for lubricating things. The film is a hyper-saturated stop-motion extravaganza that involves a mechanical world turning on some sort of hand crank. There's an adventurer driving around the sands of Egypt. His car winds down and konks out leaving the man dead in the desert. The angel of oil rains drops of lubricating crude down on the Egyptian landscape bringing the parched skeleton to life as the Shell Oil robot. Fascinating. It's got that awkward, shiny, naive beauty that could only be achieved in the 30s. Parts of this thing look like they might be influenced by Salvador Dali's work. Something about that dead skeleton and the desert looks like it could fit right into the Surrealist master's paintings.

Lye was from New Zealand and worked not only as an experimental filmmaker but also in newsreels and advertising. He was a kinetic sculptor, poet, painter and a writer of essays on artistic theory and philosphy. He made a 1935 short film called 'A Colour Box' which was the first generally exhibited film made by painting directly on the film emulsion. It's a brilliant experimental animation posing as an advertisement for cheaper parcel post. I'm sure the great direct paint filmmaker Stan Brakhage must have been familiar with Lye's work.

Here's a gallery site with information and examples of his artwork.

Trauma: A Video Poem Triptych by Swoon

Swoon is a Belgian poet filmmaker who makes films that try to blur the boundary between written poem and moving image. He mixes his own footage with found footage and sometimes mixes his own words with others. I like the quiet easy tone of his work. I like his manipulation of imagery. His work is a very difficult kind of work because it tries to make something new from two different things. Poetry is a perfect form all by itself. But film is never satisfied. It's always looking for something to include within it. So it's natural for film to go looking for poetry and try to bring it in. But poetry resists all alliances. Poetry seems content and willing to wait for centuries. It requires nothing. It doesn't care what film wants. It will sit on a dry page in some crowded shelf somewhere waiting six hundred years for just a single pair of eyes to come along in boredom, open to the page, glance in, read half-way down and then slap the book shut for another six hundred years until someone decides to finish reading the goddamn thing. That's patience. Film doesn't have that. Film must be seen now or it withers. It begins to rot. Even if it's digital. Digital films become confused and get lost in the forest of other digits. They may never find their way out again. So working with the two things and trying to get them together is very difficult but may actually make perfect sense.

This is a film poem triptych that is Swoon's first work to include his own words. There's a site for the film with more information.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cuadecuc, Vampir: 1970 Spanish Underground Dracula Film Shot as Attack on General Franco

Here's an extremely rare underground Halloween treat for anyone who loves film. Ah, but only the very fewest of you will actually watch this all the way through! Give it a try. Not only is this film underground... it's underhanded. Pere Portabella made 'Cuadecuc, Vampir' in 1970 by filming on the set of a Christopher Lee film called 'Count Dracula' that was being directed by Jesus Franco. Portabella's underground classic is on its surface a silent horror film. But it's also a documentary about the making of the Dracula film. It tells its story by stealing scenes from the feature being shot around it, almost as if the film were a mashup of existing footage! The high-contrast black and white photography evokes such cinema greats as Carl Theodor Dreyer's 'Vampyr' and F.W. Murnau's 'Nosferatu.' We see typical horror scenes like a stagecoach racing through the wilderness, or a dusty crypt, interrupted by the arm of a prop person using a fan to blow fake spiderwebs or a cameraman shooting from behind furniture. These slippages from horror into documentary actually produce a weird terror when you realize that the film was being shot under the watchful eyes of Spain's dictator, General Francisco Franco. What the film really is underneath all the fantastic and disturbing imagery is a vicious attack on Franco and the false media manipulation that keeps all dictators in power. The portrait it paints of Franco himself is one of a sad, disturbed and largely ineffective vampire who lives inside a mental construction based on the past. The other characters in the film seem to be wandering through this psychotic realm, trying to find a way out.

The soundtrack incorporates jet engines, muzak, electronic music, opera singing, jackhammers, stuck records and various other electronic sounds. Don't let this throw you because the soundtrack is one of the most eerie and unsettling that you will ever hear.

And I'm thinking that Criterion needs to jump on this and make a nice blu-ray release out of it.

Pere Portabella has a web site.

The Dystopian Trilogy: A Film by James Schneider

James Schneider made 'The Dystopian Trilogy' in 1993, mainly through the use of found footage. Its three parts, 'Faerie-Monition,' 'Oasis,' and 'Median Strip,' convey modern Americans' infatuation with closing off entire communities from the rest of the world for some theoretical benefit. The first part deals with the corporatization and homogenization of imagination through eerie footage of Euro-Disney. The second part focuses on a gated community near Las Vegas. The third contrasts and connects the freedom of the modern highway to the growth of our prison system and the fast-growing outrage of private prisons run for profit. This last part, when seen in light of today's use of immigration law to fill corporate-owned prisons with people who are turned into a slave workforce, is particularly frightening.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

One Day Occupy L.A.: A Film by Alessandro Cima

I went down to the demonstration to make a film. I liked the people there. They were very focused and happy. They were talking, explaining, arguing, educating, dancing, singing, playing, making signs, painting, photographing. Some of them made speeches at the microphone. Some read poems. There were lots of cameras.

The music and words in this film are by Tom Morello (, former Rage Against the Machine guitarist. He sings his own 'Maximum Firepower' and Woody Guthrie's 'This Land is Your Land.'

The mood at City Hall was high energy and cheerful. The underlying anger and frustration of the movement seemed to be moving through a positive channel. It was exciting but also comfortable there because of the people and their open attitudes.

The Los Angeles police headquarters is directly across the street from the protest grounds. That's where I began shooting my film - right into the windows of police headquarters. Several squad cars drove up First Street, but there was not a single cop anywhere near the protest area. The crowd is organized and respectful, but also very serious about its messages which are various and multifaceted.

The city has taken a protective stance over its protesters. I'm very proud of Los Angeles for this.

Occupy Los Angeles is one of the spreading protests coming out of the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York. Hopefully, the incredible momentum of the movement will continue and be heard very clearly across the country and the world.

The simple messages that I get from the protests are that government cannot function while it is under the control and influence of corporations. The economy cannot function properly while corporations and their extremely wealthy owners are allowed to operate without oversight and control. The country cannot pave its roads or build its schools or house its people while corporations and the wealthy play with money that is nearly tax-free, removing it entirely from the real world economy. The country cannot function as a democracy while its politicians and Supreme Court justices are working for corporations. The country cannot be free while racism and bigotry are increasingly seen as legitimate reactions to change. The country cannot be secure while corporations are given the power to run wars and people's basic privacy rights are removed.

That's what I see in the Occupy movement.

If every city in the U.S. could have as fine an Occupy movement as Los Angeles, they would be very lucky indeed.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Detective City Angel: A Film by Alessandro Cima

Want to follow a secret identity artist through a dangerous Los Angeles as he escapes and hits like a criminal? Hang on and watch carefully. You may need to watch it 14 times to catch the drift. But you've probably got that kind of time anyway.

This is a Los Angeles crime film. But it's as if several films on celluloid fused together and what you end up with is an art film that gets overwhelmed by urban documentary and then collapses into a narrative thriller. It's filled with hints, clues, evidence and misdirection. Images, ideas and sounds bounce off each other, mirror each other. There are secrets in this film. You have to watch carefully, through layers to catch things. I've tried to make a film that moves like disjointed thoughts toward the preordained ending.

During part of the shooting we found ourselves quite amusingly right smack in the middle of what was obviously a criminal lair. We had to leave quickly. But we returned with a very rapid coordinated sneak attack to film at the place several hours later. You'll never guess which scene in the film I'm talking about.

Underneath everything is the city of Los Angeles and its power over the imagination. The grimy and false facade of the city distracts observers and its inhabitants from the deep power of its mythology. If there is any American city where the ancient gods play, it is Los Angeles.

In my film, the increasing association of the artist with criminality is central. The artist as a secret identity is a perfect and unexplored area for film noir. This is probably the overriding concern of the film. The artist constantly under threat but using that threat to drive the creative impulse, even in the face of death.

The dark, gritty elements of film noir, especially that of the Los Angeles brand, inform everything in this piece. Various personas or aspects of the personality fight for identification even while running for cover. One part of the mind kills off or suppresses another, wants to be dominant and unknown at the same time. Unconscious forces create images that reflect one another, contradict, and foreshadow.

Secrecy, identity, escape, art as crime, artist as troublemaker, the anonymous creator who controls events, the protection of the delicate and easily destroyed creative impulse, the conflict between experimental and narrative film, the inescapable instinct toward narrative, the mask worn as both expression and protection. These are some of the themes I am at least touching upon.

It's a sort of psychotic noir film. The noir of dreams.

With a couple of brief exceptions, everything in color was shot in Los Angeles over the past 11 months. The music is by Kevin MacLeod who offers his incredible compositions through The actors in the narrative portion are Joshua Fardon, Renato Biribin, and Laral Cima.

This is a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) production.

Filmed in Los Angeles December 2010 - September 2011
Canon DSLR and HDV cameras
Produced by Candlelight Stories, Inc.

Music by Kevin MacLeod at
Music is licensed as Creative Commons non-commercial - no derivs - attribution

Digital B&W archival footage from the Prelinger Archives at the Internet Archive - and from the public domain feature collection at However, some B&W footage was projected from 16mm directly into certain scenes as they were filmed.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Hyrcynium Wood: Short Film by Ben Rivers

The 'Hyrcynium Wood' is a 2005 experimental film by British filmmaker Ben Rivers who tends to work with old film cameras and 16mm. I like the layered misty anxiety of this short film. Rivers has a couple of films showing at this year's New York Film Festival.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Beauty and Love Are Another Song - Song About the Youth Uprising in England

Michel Montecrossa's latest video examines the desperation behind the rioting in Great Britain. His direct and heartfelt approach works to cut through all the recent bullshit about the rioters being simple thugs with nothing more on their minds than robbery and destruction. Riots are open wounds that erupt after enormous damage has already been done to a population. The seething pressure is always there for a long time before exploding in everyone's faces. By definition, riots involve damage and robbery. What else would there be to do at a riot? Riots are anger and desperate hopelessness that cannot be controlled. Yes, of course one must punish people who burn down buildings. But one must also have the intellect and social responsibility to seriously look at why children and adults would feel so awful that the only thing they can think of doing is burning down a city. That is serious rebellion and it is going to spread. The world is under incredible economic pressure and the people who suffer understand that governments tied to extreme wealth and corporate interests are responsible. Populations are going off like bombs. The uprisings in the Middle East are directly connected to the uprisings London because both groups of people have become aware that the same corporations control what happens in both places. The dictators and authoritarian regimes in the Middle East are kept there because they provide certain corporations with efficiency in the region. Assad is exterminating people in Syria because it is convenient for Western companies and politicians that he do so. The Western governments have wanted globalization and now they've got it. Globalization of uprisings and riots. One must remember that the riots in Great Britain were started by a policeman who killed a young man. A policeman who chose, just like the policemen in Syria, to point his gun and fire a bullet into the body of a human being. A violent reaction to such an act should be expected in most cases.

RETINABALL! : A Bang Wash Film

Have you seen any of the films from Bang Wash Productions? I hadn't until today. Fantastic. I'm always utterly confused by underground things and how they operate but I enjoy them nevertheless. This film is from its two stars, Becky Lawn-Darte and Dang Steele. They also made the music. The film is an intensely fluorescent trip through sensory experimentation. The video is the message. The color hurts when experience is focused. The lo-fi approach is beautiful, concerning itself only with the creation of absolute image. In other words, it is not possible to work as a painter if you are worried about your camera. It starts off like a caper movie and then gets into secret device territory where it veers off into a volcano movie and then brings us into an analog 3D viewing glasses world of portable television, puppet shows and well-spoken pop music.

Seizure: A Magnificent Cry for Art by David Vaipan

At the start, I'll say that this is one of the most magnificent films I have seen in years. David Vaipan has made this relentless and fully-committed scream of artistic intent, desire, confusion, effort and love. This is a film about being an artist. It is a film about fear and confidence. About effort, will and failure. Vaipan simply takes the entire history of art and all that it has given him and dumps it out on his desk and turns it all into his own material. All of art, music, film, literature and poetry become Vaipan's crayons and he uses them to tell his own personal story.

The film bombards with imagery. Just gaze in wonder at the crayon animated memoir that's presented like a little puppet theater show. It moves from birth to boarding schools to Wall Street and beyond with effortless skill. The drawings are amazing and funny. Just when you think you've seen plenty Vaipan moves into a stick figure run through the history of art and it just keeps coming at you. He cuts and chops and mixes and slides and just keeps streaming the grandeur of art at us like a force of nature. He's completely lost inside the world of inspiration. He sees the fear of getting lost in the pile - the fear of being ignored - and he literally revels in the fear itself. He makes the fear seem like something to seek. This is a grand and important statement from someone who I think is a young artist. The tools of his trade are digital and he uses them freely with a wild eagerness to explore that is extremely difficult to maintain. The unabashed use of video effects and computer equipment as if they are the oil paints and charcoals inside a painter's box is one of the hallmarks of the emerging American video art movement.

I can see the influence of Ryan Trecartin's work in this. There's a familiarity with digital layers that is of primary significance in this recent art. There's a hard-edged willingness to allow the digital processes to show through. It's sort of a freedom with the computer and video that means one doesn't have to make anything necessarily look the right way or look like something it isn't.

You have to really watch this film very closely and try to catch the pieces of the roaring mass of art thrown at you. Even the ending credits are a complete statement in themselves with the director drunkenly singing the Rolling Stones' 'Sympathy For the Devil' in the background.

So many people are part of this film. Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, Jean Luc Godard, Maya Deren, Luis Bunuel, Stanley Kubrick, David Foster Wallace, Michael Snow, Agnes Varda, to name but a few.
I know that the intertitles and other things flash by too quickly to grasp and maybe that intimates something about the info-age and attention spans, it's why your lord Hiesos Kristos, magician of the beautiful, invented the pause button and that's also why the real Creator (one D. Vaipan) put this on the internet rather than wherever, because you have control.

See? That's one of the little treasure waiting for you in the end credits of this gigantic and raving epileptic fit of a film that should ultimately bring you close to tears and make you want to explode in all directions and actually truly and finally... make something!

Here is the artist's web site.

Monday, August 1, 2011