Amerika is dead. Long live Amerika!

Vancouver filmmaker toys with the US and viewers

AMERIKA at the Blinding Light!! Cinema Oct. 19

by Bryan Zandberg/Culture Writer

When was the last time you went to a film that was 11 years in the making and composed of three images projected simultaneously onto one screen? A covey of underground film aficionados turned out for precisely this sort of visual bombardment on Saturday night at the Blinding Light!! Cinema, where filmmaker and former SFU prof Al Razutis was on hand to present his 65-minute experimental film Amerika, created between 1972 and 1983.

True to its title, Amerika is a portrayal—albeit a very raw and desolate one—of the great empire to the south. According to Razutis, who both introduced the picture and led a discussion afterwards, the work began purely as an experimental conceit, but over time it spilled over to embrace overtly political content. Backed by a live audio mix of incomprehensible voices, crescendoing noise, feedback and even Razutis's own phone conversations, images flood the screens. Spliced and bleached-out segments from silent films are juxtaposed against sped-up and effect-ridden footage of empty streets in Vancouver, and both images are counterpoints to a rotating gnome's head. Empty landscapes pulsate with colour and explode. Razutis, splayed out on a sofa in an undershirt and with nylon stocking pulled over his head, chugs a beer as he vacillates and then finally manages to shoot up his television screen. A blonde in a black leather jacket and a red skirt spray-paints cryptic messages on a doorframe. Hardcore porn. Diagrams. Empty motel rooms. Graveyards.

Nailing down just what topics this film addresses is rather difficult. Razutis's phantasmagoric effects, images and tongue-in-cheek slogans definitely lambaste the evil and dissolute aspects of American culture and politics, but he also raises questions about gender roles, sexuality, film theory, class structure and censorship. Funded entirely out of Razutis's own pocket, this film is also a condemnation of the status quo in the Canadian experimental film scene, a criticism Razutis echoed during the discussion after the film. An indie film die-hard, he takes issue with what he terms the "art empire," emphasizing that the only filmmakers who get money these days are those that sell-out to industry, or are a part of the clique that schmoozes such agencies as the Canada Arts Council or the National Film Board.

For Razutis, it's all about the freedom of content, about the need to never let up when it comes to experimentation, rather than enshrining styles or commemorating "apostles of film." Twenty years after its completion, Amerika is still relevant. But interestingly enough, the old analog film format he used to shoot this picture has shrunk, a detail that did not go unnoticed as the middle projector hung up repeatedly during the exposition. Al Razutis believes in the continual rebirth of art, it seemed fitting, then, to see that even an epic project like Amerika is finite and passing away.