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Four films by Larry Gottheim

Posted by keith1942 on June 6, 2017

A US presentation on Larry Gottheim

Larry Gottheim is part of the USA avant-garde film movement. His approach is experimental but also fairly subjective. He started on 16mm films in the late 1960s and most of his work has been in this format. His work has been predominantly carried out in New York State. Apart from his film making Larry is also important in US film as the co-founder of the Cinema Department at Binghamton University situated near Ithaca in up-state New York, a pioneer in developing cinema as a form of personal art.

The programme of four films organised by the Pavilion together with the Hyde Park Picture House offered two early films and two films from his later career. Larry himself was there: part of an extended tour in Britain and continental Europe. In his introduction Larry suggested that the tour was providing an opportunity for reflection on his whole body of work which he now saw as an ongoing project.

“not ghosts of the past but very present ..”

He referred to his most recent film, Chants and Dances for Hands (1991 – 2016) produced on digital rather than his usual 16mm, which he felt had given him a fresh perspective on the earlier work,. He expressed a strong interest in time and duration and increasingly on the relationship between image and sound. The Cinema Department at Binghamton University was the first regular undergraduate program in the USA that dealt with cinema as a personal art. Larry maintained his professorship for a time there, teaching film making and aesthetics.

The first film was Corn (1970)in colour and running for eleven minutes and silent. [The projectionist ran the whir of the camera through the sound system].

“Bright green leaves stripped from ears of corn, and later, the vibrant yellow ears placed steaming in the waiting bowl. Each of these actions inaugurates a period in which one contemplates an image whose steady transformation is barely perceptible – the delicate slow movement of light and shadow, the evolution of subtle steam into the film grain.”

This was a static camera shot with the hues and shadows changing as the sunlight imperceptibly diminished. Larry commented about the viewpoint,

“Then the unforeseen reality of lenses and other physical elements entered. Each film resulted from a fusion of what was taking place in front of the camera and the camera’s own contribution. When everything was right I just looked through the viewfinder to see moving images unfold “by themselves,”

There followed Doorway in black and white and running for seven and a half minutes [again with projector whir on the sound system].l

This was a single camera shot, but a pan over a winter landscape. The title seemed to be a metaphor as the shot looked like it was taken through a large window. The bleak landscape was still apart from slight movements by two cows. The image was full of vertical lines, uprights like fences and gnarled like trees and branches. Larry felt this film included several viewpoints, including the landscape and cows who were

“wanting us to see it [and them].”

Larry also referred to the technical aspects, shooting this on a floating-head tripod with decisions about lens and focal length.

The final two films were from later in Larry’s career and exhibited a distinct change in the form and style of his work. In fact they were screened out of sequence, with the earlier film last, presumably because it was the longest. Their dominant features were the preoccupation with sound and vision and the use of montage techniques.

Mnemosyne Mother Of Muses

1986, colour and black and white , 16 minutes.

“A mirrored form in counter-movement, dense with emotion-charged memory – a rapidly sparking dynamism of image and afterimage, swirling resonant words/music, juxtaposing loss, my father’s stroke, Toscanini, Siodmak’s The Killers, the Red Robin Diner… I seem to be quickening.”

The film combines found footage with sequences filmed by Larry. The soundtrack is mainly found audio, though there is possibly some actual audio recordings as well. This is a fairly subjective mix and at times it is tricky to assign meaning. However, overall, apart from the themes identified by Larry, the film seems pre-occupied with experiences of Afro-Americans; their voices appear in the sound footage and their figures can be glimpsed in the very fast montage.

The final film was the final part of a series ‘Elective Affinities’ that Larry started in the 1970s but finished in the 1980s. This was a long film, with forms of montage techniques but at a slower pace than in Mnemosyne. There was a clear preoccupation with the relationship between sound and image. And part of the focus was

“the conflict between the intellectual and the experiential …”

Tree of Knowledge (Elective Affinities, Part IV)

1980, colour and black and white, 16mm, 60 minutes.

“It started with filming the tree. Something was released in that manner of filming seemingly farthest removed from the procedure of the early films. I first thought a simple ordering of this rich material might be enough, something related to Barn Rushes. … But the film only came into its form-life with the idea of linking this deep-rooted and far-outreaching tree material with that film on paranoia that had fascinated me for many years.”

The film opened with a colour sequence filmed in a bar, followed by a very slow dissolve of a black and white image of a tree; the films ended with the reversal of these sequences. In between the film consisted of found footage; a 1950s US documentary for school students and a 1940s documentary about the treatment of paranoiac patients; these were intercut with footage filmed by Larry of scenes of nature but with a hand-held camera using very jerky camera movements. The film at times accompanied the moving images with soundtracks from other sequences.

I liked the opening and closure, and some of the counterpoint between sound and image was interesting. However, Larry constantly replayed sequences from the two documentaries which I thought became tiresome. And the actual footage in the film was difficult to watch as the jerky camera movements were rather like watching a strobe effect. At sixty minutes in length this became something of an ordeal.

It also subverted the presentation as by the end the film we had overrun the timed schedule. So Larry was only able to say thank you and suggest we could follow up informally. There was no time for questions. Given the running time of the combined films was 95 minutes I think that the presentation should have been longer: at least two and half hours. Apart from my different responses to the four films I felt that the selection and order limited our chance to take an overview of Larry’ film work. There is clearly a significant change in his approach to film and in the preoccupations therein at some point in the 1970s. And I am still unclear how this developed.

There are comments by Larry online and notes on interviews he has given. And there are commentaries about his films, though the one’s that I looked at did not address questions of form and style in sufficient depth.

It is important to note that\t Larry Gottheim considers that his recent digital film, still to be seen, proposes a new perspective on his work overall. The Pavilion are hoping to make this available in some form. The aspects of his films that I most enjoyed are precisely those that are best served by the silver halides in actual film. For example, the operation of light in Corn and Doorway, and also to some degree in Mnemosyne. But I should be interested to see how Larry Gottheim works with digital formats.

NB The films are listed as 1.33:1, but I am pretty sure they were all shot on sound stock and on this occasion were masked to 1.371. The 16mm projection was fine. The projectors were actually sited in the cinema balcony and the sound run through a separate sound system and out from the central loudspeaker behind the screen.

All quotations by Larry Gottheim in the presentation or online.

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Pavilion presents Peter Gidal / Mark Fell: Film / Sound

Posted by keith1942 on December 20, 2015

Pavilion Fell This event was held at The Leeds Library and one one of a series under the title Images and Journeys.. This is a private lending library in Leeds city centre. Its focus is geography and topography. The Library has an early last-century feel. Slightly quaint rooms filled with shelves of books, mainly hardback. The rear room where the event took place has a wooden staircase, a balcony for the upper shelves, and a glass dome, which gives it a great atmosphere. This really set of the event itself. Peter Gill is an artist who works mainly with 16mm film. Mark Fell is a sound artist. Both have worked with the Pavilion before. The evening offered several short films by Peter Gidal with added sound by Mark Fell. The films were projected on 16 mm whilst Fell provided four channel accompaniment from a console. This opened with three recent films, Coda, Coda II and Not Far at All, running about two minutes each. The films were all of sky and clouds, with occasional additions on the edge of a frame, like part of a branch. I found this rather unfocussed as the images lacked any distinct definition. The sound accompaniment did work well, adding a resonance of noise and music. The main film was Volcano, which Gidal made in 2003. This was a longer film, running twenty-five minutes. It was filmed in Hawaii. The film runs through the day and into what seems to be evening. The camera examines the rocks, water and debris and constantly changes it focus. Some of Gidal’s structuralist ideas do not illuminate for me, but I found this visually interesting and developing a cumulative sense of place. However, I was not so impressed with the sound accompaniment. This was composed of two main elements. Noise and music, including a cello, which I thought associated well with the images. And then extracts from a recognisable conference speech by David Cameron. The relevance of the latter completely escaped me and did not add anything to the visual and aural experience. We did get some comments regarding Fell’s sound tracks. Earlier in 2015 he was involved in a project at York University, Moving Pictures and Photoplays: New Perspectives in Silent Cinema. The soundtrack was designed for a screening of Gidal’s film at the conference. As a regular viewer and writer on silent film I did not quite see the point of the exercise. Moreover, there seemed to be two distinct types of silent cinema here: early film before the introduction of sound, and recent art film, which eschews sound. I am not sure what the relationship is supposed to be? There was more commentary in a presentation of questions and answers between Gidal and Fell. These seem to be have been done by email and were read out to the audience by two performers. If you look at their WebPages you will see that both Gidal and Fell discuss their work in fairly arcane language. This was the case here and one audience member left expressing dissent in a voluble manner.

I listened and did learn something. The Coda films were set to the Atlantic jet stream, which made more sense of them. The sound accompaniment for Volcano also used a vibraphone and there was clapping, wind and whistles. They did indeed work well, at time they reminded me of the some of the improvisations of Derek Bailey. However, I did not hear anything that convinced me about the use of the Cameron speech. Moreover, I the comments of both Gidal and fell regarding film tended to voice opposition in generalised terms to mainstream and narrative cinema. That was apparent in the work but overlooked a whole area of non-narrative cinema. I have posted already on the NOW installations by Chantal Akerman. I thought her work offered d much better intertwining of image and sound. Still I found the evening interesting and enjoyed part of it. And it is a treat to see 16mm in good condition and projected properly. And I do like the venue.

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