Posted by: ckckred | April 25, 2012

Tribeca Watch: Avant Garde Masters: A Decade in Film Preservation

A scene from Rabbit Moon, my favorite short during Avant Garde

My original interest in seeing Avant Garde Masters: A Decade in Film Preservation at Tribeca was because a panel with directors of some of the short films in the presentation.  I entered the theater not knowing what to expect.  I knew the movie would be actually 8 different short films preserved by film organizations, but I had no knowledge of any of the films that would be shown or what they were about.

If I classified Avant Garde Masters as one movie, it’d be easily my favorite of the year, although the most recent short film came out over 20 years ago.  There are plenty of reasons to love these shorts, as they are all spectacularly shot and directed.

Now let me tell you all of these films show film not as a narrative peace, but as an experimental film.  These films show the art film behind the movie industry.  Not many people see film as an art like painting or music, something which I find disrespectful.  Film is an art, and Avant Garde Masters easily proves that.

Pretty much every film today is shown in a digital, widescreen format, but all of these shorts were shown in either 18 mm or 35 mm film.  This is the best viewing experience, as I couldn’t imagine seeing any of these films on a laptop screen.  They’re meant to be shown on the big one.

This review is going to be split into eight parts, one for each film.  I’ll say what I like, didn’t, and my favorites.

Rabbit Moon: 1950-1970 Kenneth Anger

My favorite film of the bunch, Rabbit Moon is a creative, fun film shot in Paris, reworked between 1950 to 1970, which revives the spirit George Méliès put in his films.  The movie revolved around a fairy dreamland, which a beautiful set and production and one memorable shot of the moon.  This short gave me the biggest smile on my face since I saw The Artist.

Motel Capri: 1986 George Kuchar

This is what a Quentin Tarantino film would look like if it was in black and white and  had nuns as main characters.  I couldn’t tell whether Motel Capri was supposed to be a comedy or a violent drama (or both).  The story revolved around a superior nun telling a younger nun what she has done in the past.  The film has some gory scenes, though they look incredibly fake.  I liked the film better now than I did after seeing it, but I can still appreciate what the director was trying to accomplish, no matter how weird.

He: 1967 Tom Palazzolo

At first I thought it was a film about the homeless, but once I saw the date it was made (1967), I assumed it was about returning vets from Vietnam.  The film is quite extraordinary, as it mixes humor (a naked man is seen swimming in an ice pond in winter) while retaining some drama and sentiment.  Overall, the film may have been my favorite after Rabbit Moon, and it’s definitely one you should watch.

Body Collage: 1967 Carolee Scheeman

This one was probably pretty controversial at its time.  Carolee Scheeman, the director of this film, told the audience members after the movie that she based the film off a few pictures of a naked women covered with newspapers.  Her film is the story behind it, as we see the character cover herself with glue, and then roll in paper.  It’s really a film at the greatest height of art, and if you look at it that way (which I did), you’ll really appreciate it.

Doorway: 1970 Larry Gottheim

To watch and enjoy all of these films, you need to have a lot of patience.  Doorway illustrates this the most.  Some critics say it’s just one panning shot (which it is), and not much else.  But look carefully and you can observe the beautiful background and other surroundings in the shot.  Larry Gottheim, the film’s director, said the film was shown 24 frames a second when it should be at 16 frames, which is supposed to give the shot a pulsing movement.  Even still I enjoyed the film.

Epilogue/Siam: 1979 Tom Chomont

This film really deals with color and race.  Though it came a decade after the civil rights movement, the movie is about the obstacles still faced by the African-American movie.  This didn’t stick in my head as long as the other movies, but it’s well-shot and has a fantastic theme.

Water Ritual #1: An Urban Rite of Purification: 1979 Barbara McCullough

The first shot shows of an African woman living in a hut, assembling rocks and food.  The director Barbara McCullough gives us a wide lens that shows she’s actually at an airport.  The meaning behind the film is to show the poverty and homelessness that still exists today in the modern day world.  It’s a beautiful portrait, and I recommend it for its deep meaning and illustration.

Prefaces: 1981 Abigail Child

I was really impressed with Prefaces.  The film is about life, and flips through multiple shots like an unknown being is changing the channel on a TV.  All these shots show great conflict or joy, and if you pay close attention you will notice that many of them are the same shots, and they are just continuing.  Child’s film is analogy that conveys that life is full of conflict and strife, but great things to come from it.  Reminds me I should see The Tree of Life again.

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