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NYFF 2011. Views from the Avant-Garde

Notes on the highlights of the 15th edition.

"Now in its 15th year," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, Views from the Avant-Garde, opening today and running through Monday, "has undergone a growth spurt since 2010 and has added a fourth day and enough titles to make your eyes tear from the ecstasy of excess or just exhaustion…. The titular monarch of [Ken] Jacobs's contribution, Seeking the Monkey King, appears to be the American greed and corruption that have sent the director into an agony of despair, if happily not a paralyzing one. Set to the music of JG Thirlwell, this digital video largely consists of valleys and hills of what look like crumpled foil that Mr Jacobs, through his manipulations, has turned into landscapes that shift, undulate and seem to pop off the screen as if in 3D. Often tinted golden yellow and blue (colors used in the silent era usually to denote day and night), the images sometimes freeze and are amended by on-screen history lessons, political commentary, moments of sentiment and words of advice: 'Read Marx. See René Clair's À Nous la Liberté.' To which I will add: See this movie." Screens today and Monday.

"Perhaps in the spirit of the end-of-the-world themes of several of the festival's main slate entries, Views includes Studies for the Decay of the West (1979-2010) by veteran German filmmaker Klaus Wyborny," writes Tony Pipolo in his overview of the series for Artforum. "Few of Wyborny's works are known in the US. Even Birth of a Nation (1973), his first major piece, is rarely screened. Studies is divided into five parts whose titles suggest more distinction among them than one might discern at an initial viewing…. The most striking formal aspect of the work is that Wyborny has edited his images in nearly perfect synchrony with a musical score he composed for piano and strings. In the silent era, Hans Richter and Viking Eggeling composed films based on musical principles (e.g., rhythms of repetition and variation), and in the sound era, the Disney studios animated graphic shapes to classic musical pieces. But to my knowledge, I don't think anyone has timed the editing of filmed images of the world — iron structures, concrete buildings, beaches, waterfronts, apartment buildings, waterways, people, and so forth — to the notations and phrases of a musical composition. In many instances (further viewings would indicate how extensively), images are repeated in sync with the repetition of the musical note first associated with them. At nearly eighty minutes, the effectiveness of this may tend to lose force, but I found the work even more seductive on second viewing."

Chick Strand's Woman with Flowers screens today and Sunday, and I posted a roundup early last week. Posted earlier today: Roundups on James Benning's Twenty Cigarettes (see, too, Darren Hughes's interview with Benning), three films by Ben Rivers and Nathaniel Dorsky's The Return. As more notes from this year's Views come in, here's where they'll be added.

Update: The Film Society has posted an overview of the program by Simran Bhalla.

Update, 10/9: IndieWIRE's Eric Kohn: "Upending, one of over 100 experimental films selected by Mark McElthatten and Gavin Smith for this year's lineup, was created by the art collective OpenEndedGroup (comprised of Marc Downie, Shelley Shkar and Paul Kaiser) using a software they invented called Field. Commissioned by the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, the 50-minute piece is solely comprised of revolving shapes, phantom characters and floating words rendered in spindly golden lines. Using still photography and a roaming virtual camera, the trio assemble light particles into glistening objects frozen in time…. The filmmakers have described the experience as a way of observing 'completely suppressed' motion, an achievement that brings out the primal quality of 3D lost on most contemporary applications of the effect."

Updates, 10/15: "While it's a fact that strikes many passers by as (rightfully) ironic, avant-garde film is, itself, a genre," writes Bradford Nordeen for the L. "This has tended to generate generic structuring principles or conventions in a cinema fundamentally concerned with either dismantling viewing patterns or aesthetic advancement in film and video. There are different strains within the genre, to be sure, but these conventions have become a rubric for working for many involved, for a result that can possess the familiar air similar to other genre fare. And with 50-some odd years in, that genre has built a booming micro-industry, with museums and granting institutions standing in for the old Zugsmiths and the Selzicks who, alongside several choice academic departments, have ensured careers for the forerunners of the medium. If anything plagued this year's annual Views, it is the creative Catch-22 that such a professional climate engenders."

At Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Leo Goldsmith is glad to have the memory of Laida Lertxundi's A Lax Riddle Unit, "with it all of its precise, crystalline imagery, its loving, evocative use of music, and its warm infusion of natural light."

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>I don’t think anyone has timed the editing of filmed images of the world… Chris Cunningham has a very strict sense of timing/rhythm, which he’s honed to a very sharp edge over the years: see e.g. his use of aural (subway trains) and visual (electrical arcs; bridge spans) cues in his work with Gil-Scott Heron, “New York Is Killing Me.”
Views has been amazing, but tiring. Ben Rivers’ work was astounding, as was Klaus Wyborny’s extremely unique project. The Jean-Marie Straub program left me flat and Betzy Bromberg’s film let my mind drift to other things, but in a very good way. So much to see. Looking forward to Paul Clipson’s performance tomorrow.

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