Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Subversive Cinema: NFB of Canada Online Archives

The National Film Board of Canada was founded in 1939 in part as a way to distribute World War II propaganda throughout the Great White North, but went on to become a bastion for experimental animation, “socially relevant documentaries” and other film projects “which provoke discussion and debate on subjects of interest to Canadian audiences and foreign markets.”

Sadly, this government agency which supported so many significant avant-garde filmmakers and animators has been subject to countless budget cuts and department closures over the last 15 years.

However, recently the NFB created a great "online screening room" for your free web-based viewing pleasure. Many of these films haven't been so easy to find (on video at least), so this is a pretty big deal. Below are some of my favorites...

Norman McLaren's Neighbors (1952)

Arthur Lipsett's 21-87 (1964)

Jacques Drouin's Mindscape (1976)

Robert Kennedy's I've Never Had Sex... (2007)

No doubt countless more films are waiting to be discovered...
(Thanks to the Arthur Magazine Blog for the heads up about this new website)



Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Subversive Cinema: R.I.P. Bruce Conner, 1933-2008

"Bruce Conner, a San Francisco artist renowned for working fluently across media, died at his home of natural causes on Monday. He was 74...

Mr. Conner first got noticed for the short films he assembled from scavenged documentary and B-movie footage. Several of his films, including "A Movie" (1958), a sort of paean to human failure, and "Crossroads" (1977), are regarded as classics of independent filmmaking, even though Mr. Conner shot no original footage for them...

...Mr. Conner announced his own death erroneously on two occasions, once sending an obituary to a national art magazine, and later writing a self-description for the biographical encyclopedia Who Was Who in America."

Breakaway, 1966


See this post from January about Conner's music video for Devo's Mongoloid


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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Subversive Cinema: Scott Bartlett's OffOn

In 1972, Scott Bartlett played with (new) video technology and then filmed it. The resulting piece, OffOn, is a film of psychedelic colorized rephotographed video loops. In 2004, the film was selected for preservation under the Library of Congress National Film Registry.

"OFFON is so striking a work, so obviously a landmark, that it has been acquired by virtually every major film art collection in America, from the Museum of Modern Art to the Smithsonian Institute." - Sheldon Renan, Curator, Pacific Film Archive

Unfortunatley, YouTube's low-quality compression destroys much of the brilliance of the film. A nice DVD version can be found on "Treasures From American Film Archives Encore Edition".



Sunday, May 11, 2008

Subversive Cinema: John Whitney's Permutations

John Whitney was an experimental animator and composer. He is widely considered to be one of the fathers of computer animation.

After studying music composition in Paris, he returned to the U.S. and began collaborating with his brother, James, to produce abstract animations. Their work, Five Film Exercises (1940-45) was awarded first prize at the First International Experimental Film Competition in 1949. By 1950, he was creating animation sequences for television.

In 1958, he collaborated with title-sequence pioneer, Saul Bass, on the spirographic opening of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. In 1966, he was awarded IBM's first artist-in-residency. Until the 1970s, most of Whitney's animations made use of a complex analog computer. By the mid-1970s his animations were made completely with digital technologies. His work often uses self-composed music that explored mystical or Native-American themes. He continued making films until his death in 1995.

Permutations (1966)

"In PERMUTATIONS, each point moves at a different speed and moves in a direction independent according to natural laws' quite as valid as those of Pythagoras, while moving in their circular field. Their action produces a phenomenon more or less equivalent to the musical harmonies. When the points reach certain relationships (harmonic) numerical to other parameters of the equation, they form elementary figures."- John Whitney



Monday, April 07, 2008

Subversive Cinema: Hip Government Propaganda

Vincent Collins' 200

"This trippy tribute to our country's 200th birthday was funded by a Bicentennial Project Grant and animated by Vincent Collins who made other psychedelic cartoons. This film was produced by the United States Information Agency--the government's propaganda agency."

Since this is an official government film, it is in the public domain. Download your own (legal) copy at Archive.org



Monday, March 10, 2008

Subversive Cinema: Tadanori Yokoo's Animations

Tadanori Yokoo is an internationally known graphic designer and poster artist. His work heavily draws upon pop-culture and he is sometimes unjustly labeled the "Japanese Andy Warhol."

In the 1960's he became interested in mysticism and psychedelia, deepened by travels in India. His work shows it.

Below is his 1965 animated film, Kachi Kachi Yama. It makes use of may pop icons of the 1960s from Bridget Bardot to the Beatles.

For those interested, all 3 Yokoo animated films available (the above film and KISS KISS KISS (1964) & Tokuten Eizou Anthology NO. 1 (1964)) can be viewed/downloaded in one package at Ubuweb.

Besides that, I can't offer much more information. Very little background in English is available on Yokoo's films. Either way, enjoy the films - they are completely visually stimulating.

[Note: Experimental composer (and Yoko Ono's first husband) Toshi Ichiyanagi's work, "Opera from the Works of Tadanori Yokoo" was directly inspired by Yokoo's artwork, who in a sense "Turned On" the composer. This multimedia box, a blend of musique concrete and psychedelic rock, is also definitely worth checking out]



Monday, February 18, 2008

Subversive Cinema: Godard's Rolling Stones Film

Sympathy For The Devil a.k.a. One Plus One (England/France, 1968)

On the eve of the May 1968 student revolts in Paris, Jean-Luc Godard would leave for London to make his first English film. Godard, who was increasingly becoming politically radical, claimed the film was his last "bourgeois film".

Godard had originally agreed to make a fully-financed film about abortion in England; the plan fell through when abortion laws changed. Demandingly, Godard told the producers he would still make an English film if they could get either the Beatles or the Rolling Stones to participate. Eventually the producers provided Godard with 180,000 pounds and a Rolling Stones commitment.

The filming was plagued with problems: the Student revolts were going on in Paris, the Rolling Stones' studio caught fire, and Brian Jones (who would die a year later) was arrested.

The film was originally supposed to tell a parallel story about creation and destruction. While the Rolling Stones were creating "Sympathy for the Devil" (from the 1968 LP, Beggars Banquet) in the studio, a love-triangle between a girl named Democracy, a Nazi Texan, and a militant black man would develop. Democracy's eventual suicide would provide the destruction angle.

Not surprisingly, Godard threw the narrative out the window. The final product is an abstract mixture of the Rolling Stones recording sessions, Black Power, graffiti, and Marxist ideology.

To make the film more marketable, the producers added a completed version of "Sympathy for the Devil" to the soundtrack at the end of the film. Godard strongly disapproved. As Gary Elshaw explains, "throughout the film, the spectator is shown the process of the Rolling Stones recording the song, but part of Godard's scenario for the film is a lack of any kind of closure for the issues represented in One Plus One. Therefore, to include the full version of the song is in contradiction with the meaning of the film."

This new version was titled Sympathy for the Devil, while Godard's was titled One Plus One. To much confusion, both were released simultaneously. Personally, I can't help but compare this film to the Beatles 1969 recording studio film, Let It Be.

My favorite part of the story:
"When the film premiered at the London Film Festival on November 30 1968, Godard asked the audience in attendance to ask for its money back...Godard also asked the audience to contribute their refunded money to the international committee for the defense of Eldridge Cleaver, who had gone underground two days previously. After many in the audience rejected Godard's proposal he stormed from the cinema calling the audience "Fascists,""

Sympathy for the Devil is available on DVD from Abcko films.

Most of this blog entry was ripped off of Gary Elshaw's M.A. thesis "The Depiction of late 1960's Counter-Culture in the 1968 Films of Jean-Luc Godard". The full text is available here.



Friday, February 08, 2008

Subversive Cinema: The Most Amazing Movie That Was Never Made...

Alejandro Jodorowsky's Dune

Jodorowsky has recently been getting a lot more (deserved) attention thanks to the release of a long-time-coming well produced DVD Boxset. For the first time his most well known movies (El Topo, The Holy Mountain) are available (legally) on home video (with included soundtracks!). I, along with a lot of other cinema lovers, can finally watch and re-watch the Jodorowsky weirdness. Additionally, new 35mm prints of these films were made and toured shortly last year.

So recently, I was completely floored when I heard out about his failed attempt to make Dune. [David Lynch would later make a Hollywood adaptation in 1984 to fund his next film, Blue Velvet]

The Wierd World of 70's Cinema sums up this lost project best:
"In development from 1974 to 1977, the film was to have featured Orson Welles, David Carradine (hot off the Kung Fu series), Gloria Swanson, Amanda Lear and Salvador Dali as a mad emperor who sits upon a toilet throne. With art design by H.R. Giger and special effects by Dark Star's Dan O'Bannon who both soon after worked together on Alien. Music was to be by Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream and French prog rockers Magma."

According to Jodorowsky:
"The project was sabotaged in Hollywood. It was French and not American. Their message was 'not Hollywood enough'. There was intrigue, plunder. The storyboard was circulated among all the big studios. Later, the visual aspect of Star Wars strangely resembled our style. To make Alien, they called Moebius [Giraud], Foss, Giger, O'Bannon, etc. The project signaled to Americans the possibility of making a big show of science-fiction films, outside of the scientific rigor of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The project of Dune changed our lives."

Hoooollllllyyyy Shiiiiittttt.

For more information and concept sketches on this sadly uncompleted project see the following:
"The Film You Will Never See" at Dune Info
"Jodorowsky On His Unmade Dune" at WFMU Blog



Thursday, January 24, 2008

Subversive Cinema: Devo's Mongoloid (A Film By Bruce Conner)

Bruce Conner is most famous for his experimental "found film", A Movie (1958). In A Movie, Conner edited together stock footage, news reels, Academy countdown leader, and B-Grade films (among other things) to create a "pessimistic comedy on the human condition". The result is an entirely original film made from entirely unoriginal sources.

Similarly, in 1978, Conner collaborated with DEVO to create their second music video, "Mongoloid". DEVO described it as, "a documentary film exploring the manner in which a determined young man overcame a basic mental defect and became a useful member of society. Insightful editing techniques reveal the dreams, ideals and problems that face a large segment of the American male population." What results is a brilliant three and a half minute music video by the master of the "found film".



Saturday, December 29, 2007

Subversive Cinema: Steal This Film II

Just released (on the interweb), Steal This Film II.

The second part of this ongoing series, the film explores intellectual property and the struggles against p2p technology.

You are encouraged to download it (in several formats) here
or visit the film's website at http://stealthisfilm.com/Part2/




Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Subversive Cinema: Tops of 2007

Here are my personal favorites from 2007. I'm only including films I saw screened on film (and of course I couldn't see everything).

So here we go (in no particular order):

No Country For Old Men, Cohen Brothers - I mean, you just can't go wrong with the Cohen brothers...

I'm Not There, Todd Haynes / Control, Anton Corbijn - "I'm Not There" was a radical departure from the banality of the biopic genre. After seeing it, I can't imagine a Bob Dylan biopic done any other way. "Control" was a great looking (in B&W with tints) film about Ian Curtis of Joy Division. Anton Corbijn has made some great music videos (including my favorite, Nirvana's Heart Shaped Box), so I was glad to see him move into the world of the cinema.

Superbad, Greg Mottola / Knocked-Up, Judd Apatow - Finally Judd Apatow is getting the respect he deserves. He teamed up with Seth Rogen for both of these and we got the best comedies of the year. Looking forward to more Apatow efforts...

Flanders, Bruno Dumont - Technically this film came out in 2006 (it won the Grand Prix at Cannes) but it didn't reach me in the theater until this year. This film deals with the horrors of modern middle eastern warfare better than any film I've seen [besides Battle of Algiers (1966)].

Into Great Silence, Phillip Groning - This film also came out some time ago but didn't get a small theatrical release until this year. It is an experience. Sitting in a cold, quiet, darkened theatre for 162 minutes puts you near the carthusian monks the film documents.

Killer of Sheep, Charles Burnett - Well this film is actually from 1978, but we finally saw it released theatrically this year. A classic.

Manufactured Landscapes, Jennifer Baichwal - This film showcases the power of Edward Burtynsky's photography. Stunningly beautiful portraits of disturbingly huge Asian industrial structures. The 10 minute tracking shot of an factory floor is perhaps one of my favorite movie openings.

New Maps of the New World:
The Short Films of Roger Beebe, Roger Beebe - This was my favorite experimental showcase of the year. His Fall tour gave me some hope for the touring experimental filmmaker.

The Bothersome Man, Jens Lien - This film is basically "Groundhog's Day" for the 2000s. A great subversive look at modern corporate culture.

In The Shadow of the Moon, David Sington - This was a documentary about NASA missions to the moon with interviews with the astronauts who went there. Being a simple look at this remarkable feat, I'm surprised no one had attempted to document this before.

Grindhouse, Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez - It seems everyone was "too cool" to put this on their lists. I preferred Rodriguez's to Tarantino's. I enjoyed the idea of bringing the double feature grindhouse experience to the theaters again. I'm also sad that it will never be released that way again (the DVDs are the seperate full length cuts of the movies). And while it wasn't the strongest film of the year, I had more intense film debates about this movie than any other this year. Everyone seems to have their own opinion...

Transformers, Michael Bay - Actually the worst film I saw this year. Buried not so deeply within, it wraps all the current excesses of America into one two and a half hour Michael Bay epic.

On to 2008....



Sunday, December 09, 2007

Subversive Cinema: Jim Henson's Time Piece

Maybe it's not that surprising that Jim Henson (of Muppet fame) was an accomplished experimental animator and film maker.

In addition to forever changing the worlds of puppetry and children's television, he frequently made experimental shorts on the side. These included an experimental television piece titled The Cube.

However, his masterpiece in the experimental arena is undoubtedly 1965's Time Piece. The 9 minute film debuted at the Museum of Modern Art and had a short arthouse/festival run. In 1967 the film was nominated for an Academy Award in "Best Short Subject, Live Action Subjects". Recently the film has been preserved by the Academy Film Archive.

Dislocation in time, time signatures, time as a philosophical concept, and slavery to time are some of the themes touched upon in this nine-minute, experimental film"

I think this brilliant film proves once and for all that Jim Henson truly was a visionary.



Saturday, November 24, 2007

Subversive Cinema: Todd Haynes' "Superstar"

I'm Not There (out now!) wasn't director Todd Haynes' first biopic. In 1987, he created a short 43 minute Karen Carpenter biopic using Barbie dolls.

The film has become a piece of "illegal art" unable to be properly released because of current zealous copyright laws.

Stay Free! magazine's illegal art exhibit explains it:
"With Barbie dolls as the principal actors, Superstar portrays the life of Karen Carpenter and her battle with anorexia. Haynes never secured the rights to the Carpenters' music he used in the movie, and Richard Carpenter filed an injunction that kept Superstar from public release. Even without Carpenter's court order, the film would probably have been stopped by the notoriously litigious Mattel, the makers of Barbie."

While most film prints were immediately recalled and destroyed, the Museum of Modern Art film archive holds a copy (although they've agreed to never show it).

Thanks to Stay Free! Magazine and other underground enthusiasts, you can download/view the entire film online. If you want your own DVD(-R) copy Stay Free! would also like to sell you one.

Streaming Google Video

Download at Stay Free! illegal art exhibit



Saturday, November 17, 2007

Subversive Cinema: Len Lye Tourist Commercial

"Len Lye edited together “swing” versions of the popular Lambeth Walk (including Django Reinhardt on guitar and Stephane Grapelli on violin), combining them with a particularly diverse range of direct film images, scratched as well as painted. He was particularly pleased with a final guitar solo (with a vibrating horizontal line) and double bass solo (with a stomping vertical line). For this film Lye did not have to include any advertising slogans; friends at the Tourist and Industrial Development Association, shocked to learn that Lye and his family had become destitute, arranged for TIDA to sponsor the film – to the horror of government bureaucrats who could not understand why a popular dance was being treated as a tourist attraction."

I can't imagine seeing this in a theater in 1939 (much less as a commercial)!



Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Subversive Cinema: Killer of Sheep

In 1977 Charles Burnett completed his UCLA Masters Thesis Killer of Sheep. He filmed the movie basically by himself on weekends in 1972 and 1973.

The film is undoubtedly a classic of American cinema. It was one of the 50 first films to enter the Library of Congress' National Film Registry (along side such films as Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Vertigo, and Citizen Kane) where it will be preserved for future generations.

Burnett was able to make this masterpiece completely outside any big budget corporate Hollywood studio for a price of only $10,000 (which is an amazingly small budget for any movie - let alone an outstanding one).

The film captures urban African-American culture in 1970's Los Angeles. It tells the story of Stan, a slaughter house worker, and his family in loosely connected episodes. Often times the camera just observes the actions of everyday life in this community. Burnett used non-professional actors and filmed completely on location. These low budget, but arguably better and more realistic techniques, recollect the radical style of post-war Italian cinema (Italian Neo-Realism). To celebrate the history of African-American music Burnett created a soundtrack that songs from all eras.

But it was this soundtrack that made the film literally "the best film you've never seen". Burnett was unable to secure proper licensing for the soundtrack, so the film, while critically acclaimed, had no official theatrical release until 30 years after it was completed.

Thankfully, director Steven Soderbergh put down the $150,000 needed to license the soundtrack (except for one song). After a nice preservation job at the UCLA Film Archive (blowing the original 16mm print up to a theater friendly 35mm one), the film was finally given a proper (although limited) theatrical release earlier this year. [The film played at the Tivoli for less than a week this summer].

So where does this leave us? Well, this month a nice DVD boxset of some of Charles Burnett's early films is being released. This is the first official home video release of the film (and it isn't bootleg quality...).

OK, great. What else? Well, if you missed the short run of the film this summer at Tivoli, Webster Film Series (really the only place worth seeing films in St. Louis) will be showing the film this January on the 17 through the 19. And don't make me remind you that seeing the actual film is always better than DVD...

AND... to top that, Charles Burnett himself will be doing a free workshop on Saturday January 19th. You must RSVP to that event so visit the Webster Film Series site for information. I'll even be in town (from NY) attending that event, so see you there.

It should also be noted that Burnett is only one of a few filmmakers who has received the highly prestigious MacArthur Fellowship ("genius grant").



Sunday, October 21, 2007

Subversive Cinema: Disney Psychedelica

Rarely would a Disney film be categorized as being "Subversive", but as usual there are exceptions.

Case in point #1: Fantasia, 1940

Fantasia broke all the barriers. It not only challenged the visual potential (in Technicolor™!) of large scale animation motion pictures, but it heavily experimented with the possibilities of pairing classical music (in stereo!) with animation.

In fact, Disney sunk so much money into the project that it took 6 releases before the film turned a profit.

It is no coincidence that it was the 1969 re-release that finally made the film profitable. Since the film became popular among users of marijuana and LSD, Disney was able to re-brand Fantasia as a "Trip Film". The campaign was successful, as the youth flocked to the theaters (high or not) to experience this masterpiece.

The film not only captured the psychedelic look 25 years before the popularization of LSD, but it also became the first music video (film).

There have been many edits to Fantasia because of racial stereotypes, sound/picture presentation, and length. The version that is closest to the original release version is the 60th Anniversary DVD released in 2000. Just don't bug out during the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence.



Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Subversive Cinema: New DVDs

Klax here:

I thought I would start a new "feature" here on the good 'ol KWUR Blog about new "Subversive Cinema" DVD releases.

Subversive films "attempt to undermine existing institutions or value systems". "The subversive attacks something in control and wishes to replace it by what does not yet exist and has as yet no power". (Amos Vogel - Film as a Subversive Art)

Luckily October features a slew of nice subversive DVD releases, lets check some out...

The Films of Kenneth Anger, Volume 2
(October 2 - Fantoma Films)

Kenneth Anger is one of the leading American avant-garde filmmakers, who also blew shit up with the publication of Hollywood Babylon which detailed all the juicy gossip of Hollywood pre-1950. These brilliant restorations continue where volume 1 left off. Essential for any basic subversive collection. [Note: Puce Moment, found on Volume 1, was screened during KWUR Week 2007 Movie Night]

Included are Scorpio Rising (1964), Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965), Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969), Rabbit's Moon (1979 version), Lucifer Rising (1981).

Battleship Potemkin (1926, Sergei Eisenstein, USSR)
(October 23 - Kino International)

This is a newly restored 2-disc "ultimate edition" which includes a 5.1 mix of the originally specified score (with a 55 piece orchestra) and restored intertitles. Considered one of the best films of all time (a Film 101 necessity), this film glorifies the story of a 1905 battleship crew who overthrew their oppressive tsarist captains.

O Lucky Man! (1973, Lindsay Anderson, UK)
(October 23 - Warner Home Video)

Another 2-disc "Special Edition" with star Malcolm McDowell (think Clockwork Orange) providing commentary. This film, an "allegory life in a capitalist society" is the sequel to 1969's If... (also recently released on Criterion).

Breathless (1960, Jean-Luc Goddard, France)
(October 23 - Criterion Collection)

Finally one of the most important films of all time (Goddard's first) gets a proper 2-disc Criterion Collection release. At first look, this films seems rather conventional, which speaks to its influence on modern cinema. The films tells the "irrelevant" story of a French gangster by ingeniously purging all the conventional Hollywood norms.

Paradise Now (1970, Marty Topp)
(November 1 - Arthur Magazine)

This limited edition DVD (of 1000) is Arthur Magazine's (now back!) second DVD release, following Ira Cohen's Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda. The film is the definitive document of a 1968 performance by the experimental theatre group "The Living Theatre" in Brussels. [Note: Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda was screened during KWUR Week 2007 Movie Night]

All these films are mentioned in some way in Amos Vogel's exhaustive landmark study, Film as a Subversive Art (originally published in 1974 - now back in print!)