"Vancouver Art and Artists"
Vancouver Art Gallery, 1983 (Text only; photo-illustrations omitted)
Al Razutis, Tony Reif
(Al Razutis is a filmmaker, multimedia artist, and
contributor to avant-garde film theory and criticism.
Tony Reif is a critic and curator of avant-garde cinema.)
Avant-garde film of the seventies saw an initial dispersal and fragmentation of earlier influences and practice. Lyrical, synaesthetic, and mythopoetic film found itself in the minority, subordinated to a growing interest in consolidating formalisms and implanting definite shapes to the work. The structuralist film enterprise was predicated on idealized conceptions of the cinematic apparatus. Structuralism employed strategies of formal reduction, created paradigms of forms and rule-governed procedures, and invoked analytical judgements towards a definition (of cinema) that is hermeneutic in origin. Thus, a personal and diaristic film form (of the kind found in Gerry Gilbert's work, and later Gordon Kidd's) was less evident than its structural-minimalist counterparts (Rimmer, Tougas, Gallagher) or its poetic-structural synaesthetic (hybrid) counterparts found in the work of Razutis and Lipskis. Many filmmakers shared a predisposition for inconoclasm and counter-culture. Razutis' inconoclastic practices emanated in the late sixties (and have been acknowledged in the sixties' essay); a major contribution in the seventies' developments of mythic and iconoclastic cinema is evidenced by the films of Byron Black.
Cinema was by and large the most important audio-visual art form in Vancouver during the seventies. It overshadowed video and appropriated many video processes within its development. The video-film hybrids of the seventies were an attempt to extend synaesthetic technology and form beyond more antiquated (optical printing) methods and to counter the pre-eminence of structural cinema. However, the most significant gains in the seventies came from strategems directed to wards a more socially-oriented practice of media critique and decon struction. The films of Kirk Tougas, Tom Braidwood, and Al Razutis were exemplary of the political avant-garde. In effect, there were many avant-gardes operating within Vancouver during the seventies. Some processes terminated by the mid-seventies; some directions continued into the eighties. An irreducible plurality existed in both the work and ideology of the seventies.
DEPARTURE FROM THE SIXTIES: DAVID RIMMER
By 1971, Gary Lee-Nova had virtually discontinued filmmaking. Keith Rodan, after his 18-film retrospective at the Vancouver Art Gallery, left for New York. David Rimmer also temporarily relocated to New York (in 1970) and it was there that his work was promptly discovered by Roger Greenspun (The New York Times) and Kristina Nordstrom (The Village Voice). After exhibitions at Millenium and Film Forum, Rimmer was accorded critical acclaim, and his reputation in experimental film rose dramatically.
While in New York, Rimmer shot footage for a film entitled Real Italian Pizza (1971). He utilized a stationary camera (shooting through a window) and varied this view slightly by shooting scenes from several floors of his studio building (and with attendant variations in lens focal lengths). The street action in front of "Tom's Real Italian Pizza" was subjected to additional time compression (pixillation) and expansion (step printing or slow motion) as a formal response to the actions themselves.
The film represents Rimmer's emerging interest in episodic construction; the compression of time (September 1970-May 1971) is revealed in sample episodes. Episodic demarcations are largely accomplished by fade-out, fade-in gestures of by black leader "spacing". Real Italian Pizza is also an essay in structured voyeurism: the action is always seen from a distance (through a window) and is qualified by both a funk soundtrack and formal interpretations.
On his return to Vancouver in 1972, Rimmer completed Fracture (1973), Watching for the Queen (1973), and Canadian Pacific I & II (1974 and 1975). Fracture was based on an 8 mm home movie, which provided the raw material for the construction of narrative that followed. Rimmer's propensity for structuring narrative and for setting in motion the question of viewership and meaning remained a dominant interest in Watching for the Queen. Canadian Pacific I & II represent the termination of his previous (stock-footage) interests and a return to landscape and poetic sampling of events in time. Both are shot from a fixed window perspective; the rectangular frame is given importance by an inside (window) frame within the screen's boundaries. The complementary films reveal Rimmer's ongoing interests in horizontal motion (as foreground) and the scene as unifying element of construction.
By the mid-seventies, Rimmer felt that he had exhausted his "materials" and he left several projects unfinished. Rimmer's approach-to both structural issues and materialist concerns (the physical and perceptual materials of the film medium) was predicated on the joining of conceptual models with "pro-filmic facts". The "joining" was usually accomplished by using home-made rear-projection technology (a kind of primitive optical printer)1 and the pro-filmic facts were usually of a stock-footage nature. Rimmer's interests did not extend to the construction of synthetic technology nor the collection of large amounts of stock footage. His processing work directly derived from the immediate realization of the concept and his stock-footage materials were usually extremely short (and subject to loops or freeze-frame expansion). Thus, it is hardly surprising that he discontinued his structural filmmaking by the mid-seventies. The conceptual framework he employed had limits, and he terminated work before it became redundant.
The single exception to Rimmer's departure from structural film is Narrows Inlet (1980). Narrows Inlet situates the viewer within the paradoxical meeting of nature and machine/eye. The fog-bound natural environs of a B.C. inlet are photographed in time-lapse using a fixed camera mounted on a boat that is anchored in the inlet. The tidal movement (of the camera-boat) produces a staccato rhythm that mimics saccadic eye movement. Surprisingly, Narrows Inlet is contemporary with Chris Welsby's Estuary (1980) which also features a camera mounted on a boat (and four-second samples of time exposures).
In 1979, Rimmer completed a remarkable documentary "portrait" of a friend and cultural legend, Al Neil. The film is episodic and interprets the subject matter intimately and with somber emotional tones. Rimmer engages to find the "mythic location" and "spinal column" of Al Neil's world from an impassioned and patient perspective. He juxtaposes long takes (from a set camera), black leader, and energetic passages of montage. The context significantly informs the expression; there is a relaxing of formal concerns. The film's intimacy is provided by an honest subjectivity that allows Al Neil time to reveal himself in contrasting states of emotion, engagement, and detachment.
AL RAZUTIS: VISUAL ALCHEMY
The early seventies represented a time of prolific output (in the three media of film, video, and holography) for Al Razutis; it was a period of aesthetic and technological invention and a pushing forward of formal parameters. Razutis worked primarily alone, outside institutional contexts (including Vancouver's fine-arts community). His multi-media work tended to align aesthetics with knowledge, technique with invention, metaphysics with physics. Immanuel Kant's credo ("In order to know an object, I must be able to prove its possibility, either from its reality, as attested by experience, or a priori by means of reason") could be applied to Razutis' integration of knowledge and art, but with the notable addition, in the late seventies, of political and ideological concerns. What Razutis desired to "know" was an aesthetic practice that used transcendental signification in personal and societal transforma tions. This transcendental function was not derived from Oriental cosmology, but fixated on the fusion of science and alchemy. Modern day "alchemy" to Razutis seemed analogous to an artistry that invoked imagination (the knowledge and experience of it) to reach beyond normal experience. If empirical knowledge (science) is predicted on synthetic judgements (arrived at through the data of experience), then Razutis felt that aesthetic knowledge could be gained through the data of visionary experience and the developments of new technologies (of the psyche). The development of the optical printer had been for him the creation of a machine to directly manifest "dreamwork"; new technologies of the psyche could be created in film form, since language and expression constituted "technologies".
In 1971, on the basis of a CFDC grant, Razutis completed the shooting (with Tony Westman as principal cinematographer) of an experimental-dramatic narrative, The Beast. Razutis describes the film as a "dreamspeak narrative of sorts..., myth making and myth mocking." After numerous problems in post production, The Beast was finally completed in 1982.
In 1972, Razutis began to experiment with colour video synthesis at Evergreen State College (Olympia, Washington). These experiments were unique to Vancouver video, since B&W was "state of the art" and videosynthesis was largely unknown.2 The Evergreen experiments resulted in "hybrid" films which combined film and video techniques and could be distributed in either film or video. The films completed in 1972—73 (and many experiments remained incomplete) included: Software (1972), Vortex (1973), Watercolour Abstract (1973), Aurora (1973), Fyreworks (1973), and Synchronicity (1973), a collaboration with Audrey Doray and Barry Traux. The videosynthesis experiments involved generating abstract imagery, reprocessing representational images, and creating film-video pieces using biofeedback techniques. This work would (in 1975) result in the construction of another technology unique to Vancouver: the videosynthesizer.3
Razutis completed five films in 1973 which were indicative of his plural formal interests. 98.3 (KHz Bridge at Electrical Storm is a dazzling synthetic journey across a suspension bridge which engulfs the viewer in video-synthetic "electrical storms" and subliminal sound broadcasts; Le Voyage and The Moon at Evernight explore image cycles, repetition, aleatory combinations, and image-less durations that are structural counterpoints to the mythopoetic image and verbal fragments; Visual Alchemy (cinematography by Westman) combines visual documents of lasers and holography and Jungian-poetic verbal passages to comment on the symbolic relationship between holography (the "opus") and alchemy; Melies Catalogue portrays the early creation of films as a dream vision captured on "burning" celluloid. The dominant motifs within these works are image condensation and abstraction, flash- frame punctuations and lightning (as leitmotif), black leader (image less) passages, and complex sound-track constructions.
Razutis' use of structures and shape was usually configured around af fective and psychological strategies; there was little evidence of a predisposition for mathematical or rule-governed procedures. As contrasted to Rimmer's structuralism, Razutis' use of patterns and forms was motivated by rhetorical or poetic considerations that employed the construction of spatial and temporal "figures" in a background continuum that was analogous to "void". His image construction employed the exacting use of optical printing and synthesizing technology which, as in the case of Bridge at Electrical Storm, was conducted one frame at a time until a maximum amount of complexity and control was achieved.
Visual Alchemy alludes to his developing interest in an aesthetic practice that joins psychic and technical discoveries. The technical discoveries that Razutis made in holography included the development of a holographic "motion picture" cylinder4 containing an animated (rotating) holographic image. He applied himself towards the design of a holographic motion-picture projection system, but was unable to gain support from the National Film Board (to which it was submitted). Subsequently, he directed his efforts towards the creation of a thirty-piece holographic art exhibition, Visual Alchemy, which in 1977, organized by Elisa Anstis and Martin Grove of the Burnaby Art Gallery, went on cross-Canada tour.
Visual Alchemy was also the name of a studio and stock-footage library established by Razutis. The library was the source of his Visual Essays: Origins of Film which by 1976 included Sequels in Transfigured Time and Ghost: Image, in addition to the already-completed Melies Catalogue and Lumiere's Train (Arriving at the Station).
Sequels in Transfigured Time is a return to the films of George Melies (1861—1938), as sequel to the Catalogue, and presents a poetic interpretation of early cinematic vision and imagination. Ghost: Image explores the tradition of "fantastic" films that included Dada, Cubism, Surrealism, German Expressionism, Poetic Realism and concludes with the classic horror genre.
In 1976, Razutis completed Portrait, a pointillist study of his daughter based on Carol Aellen's 8mm footage; macro-rephotography was used to increase detail and grain. The same year, he also completed The Wasteland and Other Stories, and Cities of Eden. These two films added to a longer work in progress, Amerika, which, as a thirteen-part compilation film, draws on the myths and image systems of the post-industrialized world.
By 1977, Razutis' combined work in film, video and holography had brought him to exhaustion and bankruptcy. He moved to the South Pacific. In 1978, he returned to Vancouver and took a teaching position at Simon Fraser University. There he set about constructing a film program that would exhibit a blend of experimental film production, film theory, and contemporary technologies for film practice.
His interest in political forms of experimental filmmaking intensified in 1978—80. In 1980, he published a manifesto on "Cinema Arts" that denounced the Canada Council's policy of generating a secondary "independent" film industry at the expense of arts funding, and he participated in the founding of Cineworks (a film production co-op).
Razutis' late seventies' film work (e.g. The Wildwest Show, A Message from our Sponsor, Mote/Row) turned to the issues of media language and ideology. His work combined textual construction5 with formal subversion (subversion of signification, meaning and styles) and extended the practice of filmmaking into the realm of pragmatics and cultural protest. It is therefore hardly surprising that by the early eighties his work found itself less and less involved with "fine arts" interests.
AL RAZUTIS: THE LANGUAGE OF VISION AND CRITIQUE
Razutis' two major film projects of the decade, Amerika and Visual Essays: Origins of Film, offer the most compelling evidence of his concerns and their achievement.
There can be no doubt that Amerika is one of the major works to em erge from Vancouver and one of the most important cultural state ments of the North American experimental film movement. Anaiysis of this film is still problematic, however, since it remains unfinished and subject to further change. Here is Razutis' description:
In another essay he states his artistic credo:
At the perceptual level, Amerika magnificently reasserts the sensuousness and malleability of the motion picture image. Razutis sets out to deny, break through, the narrow range of expression of film used as "faithful" (literal) documentation of "reality" (the surface of things). Films like 98.3 KHz (Bridge at Electrical Storm reassert film primacy through unreal or synthesized colour and motion, and return to appearances the wonder and surprise of aesthetic perception. Their underlying theme is the relativity of all perception and the ironic gap between official codes of representation and any personal, liberated response. Amerika consistently calls into question the mass image and its meaning within its ordinary, mass-media context— indeed its ability to convey any meaning beyond the myths co-opted and perpetuated by corporate society (The Cities of Eden, The Wildwest Show, A Message from Our Sponsor, 0 Kanada!). Razutis sets off these dissections of dominant imagery against personally-generated images dealing with further aspects of consumerism, such as holiday travel (The Wasteland and Other Stories...) and sexual recreation (Motel Row 2).
And he balances these empty pleasures of the moment— pleasures reduced to visual signs which he nevertheless fills with a restless critical energy — against apocalyptic visions of decay, destruction, emptiness and ruin (Atomic Gardening, Mote/Row 1 and 3, Terminal Cityscapes).
Razutis' second multi-film project, Visual Essays: Origins of Film, comprises a critique of selected "moments" in the early development of cinema. The essays also constitute a re-creation, in the aesthetics of current avant-garde film practice, of the experience of wonderment these works must haveoffered their audiences. Each essay, as Peter Chapman points out, "is structured around a distinct set of optical printing and collage techniques so that every one embodies a 'look' which becomes the film's central strategy and metaphor." 8
The first essay, Lumiere's Train (Arriving at the Station), deals with "cinema itself: an apparatus of representation, wherein fact and fiction are recreated." The "fact" — Lumiere's one-shot of a train pulling in, and the "fiction" — clips from Gance's La Roue and a Warner silent featurette, Spills for Thrills, are both deconstructed, and, as individually modified frames of film, re-yoked to the image track (the celluloid running through the projector). "The exposition and form of the film is closely tied to the tradition of cine-structural poems which foreground the actual materials of the medium (light, dark, form as shadow-projection of the cinematic apparatus)."9 The principal analytic procedures are rapid alternations of positive and negative versions of the original frames (vhich, combined with flash frames, induce anomalous colours through afterimages) and frame-by-frame reconstruction of motion (sometimes realistic, often anomalous). Silent cinema of the twenties had developed a set of conventions of mimesis to construct events, arouse expectations and generate spectacle; by boosting the kinetic energy locked in these film clips, Razutis comments on the limitations that this "language" of narrative cinema imposed on the medium.
Melies Catalogue, a compendium of "primitive" film fantasy and magic, returns to examine an earlier aesthetic. Its structure is based on colage since Melies was the first to exploit filmic discontinuity: he discovered that by stopping the camera mid-scene he could make people and objects disappear in a puff of smoke. The chemical instability of nitrate stock, generally used for 35mm until about 1950, is implied in the film's dominant visual motif: each short clip is "burned through" by the next. This constantly bubbling, fiery series of superimpostions is a homage to the "magic" alchemy of the cinematographic process itself, and to Melies' transformation of crude music-hall acts into "a dream-like terrain".
Sequels in Transfigured Time, Ghost: Image, and For Artaud are the three further Visual Essays completed to date. The qualities of fantasy, invention and vision in the films they quote from continue to provide a basis for image transformations. Yet, as in Amerika, this process of transformation is allied to a critique of history: here, the cultural history of the early twentieth century as expressed in its most powerful image-creating medium.
For Artaud (1982) is the latest, most elusive of the Visual Essays. Razutis returns to ground explored in films that deal with psychic tension through subliminal and archetypal imagery, Le Voyage and The Moon at Evernight. Here, however, he is placing these concerns in a specific cultural context, cinematic "expressionism and the tradition of Gothic horror".
In that the codes of meaning perpetuated by the institution of "cinema", and the particular images it has produced, still haunt our collective (un)consciousness, the Visual Essays complement the concerns of Amerika. They are constructed in an analogous way: documents of mass consciousness and individual perception are reformed into a commentary that transcends intellectuality to offer a synthesis that combines language with imagination.
BYRON BLACK: THE METAPHYSICS OF PERFORMANCE
The son of an American Colonel, Black has an academic background in linguistics — he has studied Arabic and speaks Spanish and Japanese — but, as he explains it, a "lust for motorcycle racing" ruined his academic career.
Black's other passions include pantomiming to Spike Jones records, photography, filmmaking, and meditation. (Homoeros directly informs his later work.) He began teaching himself filmmaking in 1965; by the time he arrived in Vancouver (in 1970, as a draft-resister) he had produced about five hours of film in various stages of completion, including diaristic material, a number of nature studies, and a few political newsreels. The influence of Brakhage was noticeable in the shooting and editing; like Emshwiller, he was drawn to wide-angle lenses, hand-held camerawork, and a "cosmic" point-of-view.
In 1972 Black completed his first feature, The Master of Images. At the same time he was developing a synthesis of media forms — including film, slide projections, music, and later video — in the context of performance, with Black himself as the Master of Images. The aim, as he put it, was to create a sort of "experimental vaudeville" and "to break the film out of the frame".
Although its expression has varied, the aim of spiritual liberation has always been uppermost in Black's work as in his life — but the model of liberation he proposes in The Master of Images can be seen as a kind of western Zen for media junkies. In his assault upon the North American consumer mentality Black enlisted the counter-culture, using its values (and their ultimate failure) as a springboard to move through cosmic humour and paradox towards the realization of divinity.
The Master of Images is organized around the idea of improvised performance as a spiritual technique. Psychodrama had been a basic of experimental theatre in the sixties (The Living Theatre, etc.) but without self-proclaimed spiritual context; it was also a technique used by religious groups inspired by the example of Gurdjieff. And the idea of the witness who simply observes the personality's thoughts and actions without comment is a Buddhist concept. In The Master of Images, Black adapts these procedures to the movie-within-a-movie format. He himself impersonates the bald-headed guru in whose presence the actors interpret roles that project their off-screen personalities.
The commercial failure of The Master of Images must have prompted Black to give his second story-feature about "our image pestilence" a somewhat less didactic and more bizarre manifestation. Shot again in 16mm (intended for blow-up to 35mm), The Holy Assassin (1972—74) takes post-hippie psychodrama to the point of cosmic absurdity. The through line this time is an obscure plot concerning a renegade space traveller (Black) who, passing from dimension to dimension, "is shipwrecked on a primitive young planet called 'Earth' during a wild neutrino storm... Forced to engage in fierce psychic combat with warlike natives, the alien tells of his desperate attempts to escape certain planetary doom, in rapid-fire collage style." 10 The film was group-im provised under conditions in which real emotional conflicts were tempered by fantasy, by a willingness to play with roles, put on new identities.
In the film's prospectus Black enlarges on his approach to the "Theatre of Consciousness":
What is so piquant, and even poignant, in Black is the interplay/inter penetration of the great American tradition of huckster-promoter-confidence man and the serious aim of manifesting enlightment: the shaman as showman. The game he plays with his life and in his work balances ego-gratification against ego-mortification in a dualism which is completely symptomatic, as he sees it, of the human condition, and the best way of dealing with it. Thus in The Holy Assassin, Black the spaceman-cameraman sometimes appears on the edge of the frame as he shoots, joking, over-emoting and/or interpreting for us benshi-style" — a comment on the "hollowness" of the story.
Black considers the 5.9 mm extreme wide-angle lens as "to some extent, my standard lens..., a most natural lens. In terms of the field-of-vision it approximates the human eye and frames itself basically, in that you can hold the camera up and away from your eyes and have it framed properly. And the hand-held camera speaks for itself — it's a member of the people interacting — it's trying to make living theatre with a dead medium, a mechanical medium." 2
Black's editing also confounds our expectations of narrative structure and consistency. The normal codes of linearity become the Newtonian special case in a narrative universe of Einsteinian relativity. Asynchronous image-sound montages substitute simultaneity, uncertainty, and multiple points-of-view for the more conventional cinematic space-time relationships.
The synthesis of choreographic camera and mise-en-scene, and cubistic construction, makes for startling, manic, and humorous cinema. Black shines in performance, where he pursues his penchant for word games, puns and paradoxes through a non-stop improvised narrative, all the while controlling and responding to the image-sound flow from overlays of slide and film projectors, video and audio cassette. As a per former, Black has often assumed the lecturer's pose. In The Colour Bar and the Chromosexual (1976), he spoofed the psychiatric jargon of sexual deviance ("chromatic aberration") by constructing a lengthy discourse based on puns linking the scientific description of light and its religious metaphors. 3
In 1977, Black spent five months in Japan, Thailand, and the Philippines on a Canada Council grant. This first "Asian shooting spree" resulted in two completed half-hour films.
Flor Fina Pilipina (1978) is a "romantic documentary" on cigar-making in Manila; it incorporates a number of amusing personal reflections and asides but at times falls uncomfortably between the sponsored film format it half-parodies and the committed documentation of southeast Asian realities that occupies his later video work.
Mango Magritte (1978) is much more interesting, an all-out synthesis of the Over Baron's transcendental jesting and worldly pursuits. The narrative is an "epic quest" to track the "flying fruit of the tropics" across the Pacific to Vancouver and around the lazy eight of infinity. Along the way, Black pokes fun at science films, travelogues, Maoist propaganda and the NFB, among other targets. The film's complex continuity reflects Black's performance work. Dual-mono narration by the MwaRay Brothers conceptually anchors the radical space-time jumps in visual coherence. Puns and paradoxes sew up a word/image montage whose elaborate wit approaches Joycean heights. But the fixed deliberation of the film medium mitigates the sense of spontaneous inspiration (always teetering on the brink of self-parody/self-revelation) that lightens his performances. Black packs film to its limits, indi cating a growing disenchantment with cinema as a medium flexible and fast enough (not to mention cheap enough) to contain his art.
For the past three years, while teaching video and photography at an art school in Osaka, he has worked in 1/2" video, completing a series of tapes destined for "B-84", his proposed art conference. Shot mostly in the rural Philippines and Thailand and among Karen freedom-fighters, this recent work takes a humanist, anti-authoritarian political stand without entirely forsaking its maker's love of irony and humour and his spiritual convictions. The strength of the social vision draws upon the same personal energy and transpersonal ideals that have graced his work from the beginning.
THE POLITICS OF STRUCTURALISM: KIRK TOUGAS AND TOM BRAIDWOOD
Kirk Tougas figures prominently in any discussion of Vancouver avant-garde cinema. His interests have spanned careers in criticism, adminis tration and cultural activities, fllmmaking, and, more recently, political activism.
In the mid-sixties, Tougas discovered European cinema and an intellectual culture that (in his words) "treated film as high cultural artifact". When Tougas returned to Vancouver, he worked as a critic for the Ubyssey and the Georgia Straight, and it was this latter experience that first put him in touch with Vancouver avant-garde cinema. His interests in making films were largely informed by an "evolution from poetry to film" that would reveal, in cinematic terms, the creative structure underlying poetry and literary thought. His early frustrations with a lack of cultural criticism and world-view (the Vancouver of the sixties) led him to found the Pacific Cinematheque Pacifique in 1972, and he would hold the title of director until his resignation Dec. 31, 1979.
(Correction note: Subsequent research of the Pacific Cinematheque founding and incorporation documents revealed that the 'founder' of the Cinematheque was Werner Aellen (Intermedia Director), along with Tony Emery, Doris Shadbolt (Vancouver Art Gallery), Bruce Pilgrim (NFB), Mike Collier (Alpha Cine) and Tougas (who was appointed the first 'Manager'). This correction was added by Al Razutis in 2005 for the purpose of historical clarity.)
To Tougas, criticism and theory heralded "new directions in filmmaking", and their new direction could also take the form of an intellectual response to synaesthetic film of the sixties. His first film, Far From Quebec (1971), was described by Tougas as "an inquiry into relationships — political, social, aesthetic, perceptual — the relationship between Vancouver, Quebec, Brittany... the relationship between image and sound, between projection and spectators."
The Politics of Perception (1973) continued the examination of cultural time begun in Far From Quebec and "the human relationship with technological systems, information environment, entropy/negentropy...". The film is based on repeating segments of a violent 50-second trailer (for the Charles Bronson picture The Mechanic) in a state of con tinual deterioration. Over the 33 minutes, the image quality constantly deteriorates, increasing in contrast, and the soundtrack loses clarity until both picture and sound assume the status of "noise". This steady progression towards a White screen and "white-noise" audio is maddening for some viewers because it relentlessly tests their culturally-in duced habits of "plot development", "character", and "resolution". The point of exhaustion (of materials and "content") that the film implies is a phenomenological reduction that is explained by Tougas' conception that "film is a process where we take shadows and modulate an artificial sun (by intervening celluloid patterns)." The Politics of Perception is (in Tougas' view) akin to viewing "the history of photography and representation in reverse... slowly". He is also mindful that, while it leaves room for people "to think", it also allows room for people "to snap". (At Oregon State a viewer attacked the screen while the film was being projected.) The "mechanic" Bronson, as looped protagonist of destruction, is a metaphor for mechanized perception, photo mechanical reproduction, and mechanized cultural production and consumption.
Tougas' view of film as a totally linguistic process, with "structure... simply a component" of this process, becomes clearer with his companion piece to The Politics of Perception, Letter From Vancouver (1973). Letter From Vancouver features a deconstruction of the rhetorical figurings of media, and implicates the influence of Godard on Tougas' work. The stock footage that comprises its first section (e.g. Lucille Ball, The Avengers, Bonnie and Clyde, The Flying Nun) are synchronic slices of the 1973 populist media. The film is, in Tougas' words, an "imagistic meditation of mass culture". It reveals correspondences between violence, power, sexuality, and media persuasion. The correspondences rely on the viewer's ability to "read" images. The silence is punctuated by four sections that offer the seventies' Liberal Party motto: "Canada stand together, understand together" in ironic counterpoint to the dominant media's other message: propaganda sells lifestyles. Marshall McLuhan had once posited: "The propaganda value of this simultaneous audio/visual impression (movies) is very high, for it standardizes thought by supplying the spectator with a ready-made visual image before he has time to conjure up an interpretation of his own". The denial of sound and the denial of action in Letter From Vancouver therefore is a strategy aimed at placing the viewer in a critical position vis-a-vis mass culture.
As a metalinguistic (i.e. the language of myths) essay, Letter From Van couver offers formats for deconstruction, but never precipitates an actual deconstruction of the image systems. Letter From Vancouver (Part Two) removes the traditional representational elements (the anthropomorphic image) and returns us to the basic binary state of "figure" and "ground" or (in Tougas' terminology) the "sun" and "absence". It presents a stroboscopic (circular) image in the context of Ravel's Bolero. The concept of structured strobe imagery and the "emptying of all form" is reminiscent of Tony Conrad's Flicker; the use of a classical music counterpoint suggests irony and abandonment of cinematic interests. The recognition of media propaganda and its effects on both viewer and filmmaker can produce a kind of "toxic shock". Shortly after Letter From Vancouver, Tougas discontinued filmmaking until the late seventies.
Tougas' present interests in avant-garde work are tied to his previous concerns for filmic "portraiture". (In 1972, he completed a rarely-screened and never-distributed film entitled Feminist Portrait) The expression of history and culture through the portrait is for Tougas a quintessential aesthetic challenge. It is at the level of cineportraiture that he seeks to capture the human presence in the world, and this presence has been the subject of all his films.
The work of Tom Braidwood represents related, overlapping, and com plementary concerns. Braidwood's work, which also utilizes media and strict formal considerations (the loop, synchronous/asynchronous rhythms, and duration), differs from that of Tougas in that it is preoccu pied with emotive impact and shock techniques. Braidwood's conception of duration (as indicated in his later work) is not meditative, but kinetic and rhythmic. The background that he brings to cinema is a blend of writing and dramatic skills, and a continuing interest in positioning film practice within social and political contexts.
Prior to his more violent and structured "replies to contemporary culture", Braidwood's work featured meditations on vanished cultures. Willow (1972) sets nature against a kind of "negentropy" (to use Tougas' expression): the sound track offers rain and thunder as an imaginary "ecology" set against visual abstractions that become more and more concrete and representational of landscape.
Wind from the West (1972) is a reply to Godard's Wind from the East (in Braidwood's words) "through the eyes of an already dead expression, romanticism". Through a series of static shots (stills), and competing soundtrack dominated by sounds of nature, the lost cultures of rural farming and Indian civilization are fleetingly "restored" for our eyes.
The relationship between art, politics, and culture is a theme that reappears in many of Braidwood's films. Inside the Reflection (1973 portrays this issue in a highly-stylized theatrical manner that was based on Nijinsky's last performance, a catatonic protest against war, for European royalty. Inside the Reflection is less a film about madness than an ontological view of conscience and pathos, morality in an immoral world. Art as moral enterprise is at issue.
The use of film to provoke direct response in the viewer is most evident in Braidwood's two most remarkable films, Backbone (1972) and Limitd Engagement (1976). Backbone is an essay on structures and metaphors of war, mechanization, dehumanization. It reveals not a paralysis of "guilt" but a reaction (against horror) that asserts itself through command of language. The premise that Braidwood employs is related to the leftist strategy "which asserts that what people believe, and thus the way they will behave, can be changed by the very form of the way in which they are represented," a formalism expressed in the Soviet publication of the twenties, Novy Lef Lef. The brief, metaphoric prologue of Backbone is suddenly displaced by a loop of two images: a soldier raising his arm, and a shell casing ejected from a cannon. These two shots (20 frames each) repeat for almost the duration of the film. The sound track also has two components: a musical chord (and the word "fire"), and a hiss sound which initially synchronizes to the cannon-shell ejection. These two images, and their sound component, form a "backbone" that sustains a sense of violence. The sound loops slowly (and almost imperceptibly) begin to slip out of sync with the picture: near the end of the film the two loops assume complementary orientations. A final (epilogue) sequence interrupts the looped backbone of the film: we see a woman embracing a soldier and then, as her hand reaches out in the same manner as the soldier's command to fire, the frame is frozen and we meditate on the image in silence.
Limited Engagement (1976) sums up Braidwood's concerns for "media conditioning" and both artist's and public's responsibility for the discourse of images. This film situates the viewer as respondent in its presentation of coded (connotative) media language construction and deconstruction. Limited Engagement utilizes a "psycho-sexual" narrative that revolves around two shots which are (as in Backbone) looped and played off a manipulated sound track. Braidwood's primary concern is to generate a violent and provoking film text that contrasts "the giving of life" with "the taking of life".
Limited Engagement begins with a prologue section that employs entertainment conventions and parody. Suddenly, the film "erupts" with the two-shot repeating loop sequence and the audio phrase: "What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?" From this point the visual loop remains the same and the audio features "cut ups" of the original phrase that reconstitute themselves into numerous variations: "What's nice in a girl like you?" "What's a nice place like this doing in a girl like you?" etc. Each permutation-combination contains metonymic allusions to the submerged and implied sexist meanings behind the original phrase. The two-shot loop also is sexual in connotation: the first shot features a shell removed (moving left) from a cannon, the second shot features a baby handed over (moving right) from one person to another. The metaphoric connection between death/life is stunningly archetypal; the metonymic deconstructions of the audio track suggest a conscious reflex to the domain of "submerged" meanings. Braidwood's strategy is to allow this construction to linger for some minutes. (I feel it could go on for hours.) The film ends with a montage (epilogue) section that ironically plays off image against audio ("quick and easy" repeating). The humour that some of these epilogue constructions generate is punctuated by another traumatic image: a woman's corpse carried down the road towards an Auschwitz burial and the sound track once again reminds us: "What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?"
The above two films, particularly Limited Engagement, raise questions concerning the "purpose of avant-garde film" and its capacity to politically confront mass-dominant media and (the ideologies of) hegemony. Braidwood's deliberate use of formal strategies acting in support of political critique and deconstruction are a notable extension of a tradition of photo-montage (Heartfield) that is as relevant today as it was in pre-Nazi Germany. The strategy of implicating the viewer is one that does not readily provide answers. There is no voice of authority/omniscience "explaining it all"; there is no invoking of closure on questions.
POETIC FORMALISM AND THE STRUCTURES OF VOYEURISM
The mid-seventies also produced a range of films that were expressly non-political and situated the filmmaker in positions of consolidating previous avant-garde interests in lyrical film, synaesthetics, and structuralism. The dominant characteristic of this work was its ability to revive an interest in poetic vision and diaristic practice, and to extend the previous formal concerns into areas of structural refinement and voyeurism.
Gordon Kidd began making films in the mid-seventies. His work is typified by a lyrical-poetic impulse that is informed by the paradox of Buddhist and pantheist influences. His films are, as he stated, a poesis, a sound and kinetic visual experience (which) most readily becomes a synthesis of life experience and thought processes/of memory/immediate awareness/of emotional colour."
Wave Prelude (1974) expresses a highly textual and kinetic sensuousness. The camera is used to "paint" water textures into kinetic patterns; the optical printer is used to create a frame-within-a-frame structure that presents tightly-controlled complements, contrasts, and visual counterpoints.
Gulf of Georgia (1975) is a companion piece to Wave Prelude. It extends the exploration of "oceanic" consciousness into mythic impres sions of seaport, contrasted by commercial (collage-like) icons of boats.
In making Olympus (1976), his most successful film to date, Kidd returned to the dynamic camera eye of the personal vision to create a "homage" to the landscape of the Pacific Northwest. In contrast to his earlier preoccupations with detached facades, Olympus set in motion a "shamanistic eye" that was free and ritualized, mobile and contained, in a synergistic interpretation of (in his words) "the majestic landscape... (that) inspires tremendous power of elemental chaos and order."
Olympus attempts to reconcile a totemic worship of nature with a mythical status accorded to universe and cosmos by the Greeks. The film is permeated by movement, flowing cinematography, transient details that course in and out of the frame. Perception as transcendent ritual (the enactment of which produces "vision") is strongly suggest ed in the chants that accompany the visual tract. Olympus is atavistic and primeval: it creates the sense of the filmic frame as (in Kidd's words) "an opening through which we can go into the experience" of visionary cognition.
Self Portrait (1978) and Lux Process (1980) reaffirmed Kidd's interests in the poetic image as contained and realized in (the artist's) persona, in narcissism, and in visual environments that emanate from the concept of "self".
Kidd's work, prior to his departure for Toronto in 1982, also included a poetic essay on Ann Waldman (Sketches 1977), and a mytho-dramatic narrative of the encounter between the old/eternal myths (personified by Al Neil) and the young man in search of truth (himself) in Tenderizer (1981).
Peter Lipskis' film work also emanates from the mid-seventies and represents a search for the structured use of metaphor, symbol, and cinematic analogues of consciousness. Lipskis works in a variety of film and video formats (8mm, 16mm, video-film hybrids). His films display a fusion of synaesthetic and structural styles (influences from Rimmer, Razutis) with conceptual modellings that are highly original. The pluralism of his interests is unified by a penchant for a kind of universal consciousness and an archetypal language.
Good Friday (1974) evokes a Catholicism that is medieval, ritualized, and somber. The grainy step-printed procession of people exiting from a church (on Good Friday) is framed within Gregorian chants that suggest an ironic counterpoint to "grace" and conversion. This steady procession is evocative of Standish Lawder's Necrology, wherein humanity passes through the "gate" of the camera on its way to some deadly destiny.
Spare Parts (1975) remains as Lipskis' most ambitious and successful attempt to structure symbolism, language, and the (unconcious) nature of anxiety. It presents a four-part examination of narrative (the concept of story and meaning) as a psychic construction rich in disguised meanings. Spare Parts portrays "echoes of thought" and a tensing of cognitive awareness that many viewers find frustrating. The lexicon that Lipskis employs is comprised of selected stock-footage shots. The length of each shot is firmly fixed at 24 frames (1 second), a length that allows him to capitalize on the 26-frame displacement between optical and audio projection playback. The one-second image that the viewer sees includes a second of sound from the previous shot. The organization of shots is predicted on various models of mathematical permutation/combination. David Rimmer had earlier experimented with segmenting a strip of film, into freeze-frames of varying duration and thereby constructed a narrative based on temporal discontinuity and structuring. Lipskis' work is far more sophisticated and complex.
Parts I through IV of Spare Parts conduct various explorations of narrative construction, structured exercises in combining shots in mathematical permutation-combination. Lipskis is attempting to equate cinema with conscious-unconscious processes. His use of metaphors ("divers entering and exiting (from) water") is less important than the innovative model that he creates. Lipskis' structuralism is uniquely distinct from the camera-apparatus views of Snow or the perceptual apparatus of Rimmer; his cinematic rendition of narrative implies that the construction of meaning can only take place in the viewer's mind, and that much of it depends on memory and the ability to relate to several narrative structures at once. 4
In 1976, Lipskis completed Eye Dentified Image, which segments and repeats simple actions (smoking a cigarette) in varying degrees of abstraction, rhythm, and counterpoint.
Processed Gello (1977) further develops Lipskis' interest in structures of perception and implicates his work in the Orphic tradition of analyzing chromatic patternings. He employs colour cycles (based on primary and secondary values) and optical procedures (of combining images), founding his entire structure on a "colour-note score" created for the film.
Lipskis continued his many interests in structure and representation in his 30-minute Trance American Impressions (1977) which he shot on a bus trip to New York. The film's step printing of window views (in 5, 10, and 20-frame rhythms) is roughly analogous to heart-beat rhythms.
In 1977, he also completed Floating Reflections, a visual poem that attempts to unify nature and perception using expressionist surface textures. The film relies on the water-earth-air-fire quarternary to create a dream-like web of image correspondences which act as analogy to (in Lipskis' words) the "images representing a floating world" found in Japanese wood-block prints. Floating Reflections is less than totally successful: while a few sequences create a visual synthesis that is arresting, the inclusion of personal footage, of friends and other diaristic material, detracts from the film's mythopoetic conception. The same year, Lipskis completed a remarkable, largely unknown, film entitled Haunted House. It is a silent meditation on the personal details of family (his parents recorded in textures, shadows, patterns, extreme closeups). Tender and loving, the film illuminates the "past" by the presence of absences." Its poetic mood evokes the "restoration" that is properly the quality of love and remembrance. Withholding it from public exhibition indicates Lipskis' feelings for the images (and their privacy) as well as his mistrust of the "art world".
More recently Lipskis has completed Eclipse (a 1979 time-lapse document of the total solar eclipse in Portland, Oregon), It's a Mixed Up World (a 1982 compilation film on a kind of madness that the world's images evoke), and Crystals (a 1983 short essay on the symmetry found in snowflake crystals). Lipskis' other work in video-film (films translated to video) or super-8mm is more directly preoccupied with "New Wave" culture, rock and roll, and comic melodramas (e.g. I was a Teenage Personality Crisis). He has worked in collaboration with performance artists and has continually involved himself with documenting art-culture practices. Less formally evolved than his 16mm work, the video-film and super-8mm work reflects a topicality appropriate to the culture from which it emanates.
Chris Gallagher's work in film derives from his interests in photography and fine arts. The films are typified by irony, humour, and structuralist interests directed towards the issues of cinema and spectatorship. They reveal a kind of bi-polar "hot" and "cool" (to use McLuhan's terms) predisposition to the medium. Yet the emotional underpinnings, a fulcrum that specifies positioning and balance, rarely surface. If we are to be informed by his early work, it seems that spectatorship in Gallagher's films implies voyeurism.
His first film, Sideshow (1972), situates the audience as voyeurs in the exploitation of innocence. A performer arrives on stage, opens a suit case, and pulls out a baby which then becomes the subject of moronic fascination. Gallagher's interests in social parody are further revealed in Santa (1979), where the posing of kids and adults with a Pacific Centre Mall "Santa Claus" is documented in a series of "snapshots". In both films, what is difficult to discern is the precise nature of the voyeurism intended. The camera presents a passive recording of "captive" events.
In 1975, Gallagher completed Plastic Surgery, a film of both synaesthetic and biographical proportions which presents a (largely unstructured) series of visual sequences. These vary in subject matter, technique, and synaesthetic influence-models and revolve around the film's central metaphor: the cutting and suturing of the filmmaker's body. The techniques and subject matter that he employs directly ac knowledge synaesthetic avant-garde filmmakers and their practice (O'Neil, Razutis, Rimmer).
In 1975, Gallagher also completed Atmosphere. This film represented a radical shift to more minimal and structural avant-garde practice. Atmosphere is derivative of Chris Welsby's Wind Vane (1972), and Michael Snow's <------> (1969). However, Gallagher's work is more in keeping with a strategem aimed at perplexing the viewer and countering expectation.
The apparayus he employs is a camera-wind-vane mounted on a tripod. The focal length of the lens is fixed and the pans and swish-pans are activated by the wind. (The preeminent status accorded the camera is revealed in the closing shot of the film.) The camera frame acts as a window, scanning the landscape in constantly shifting sporadic bursts within which only the horizon remains constant and a passing seagull becomes a noted intrusion.
The Nine O'Clock Gun (1980) places even more minimal guidelines on cinematography and editing procedures. The viewer (as passive voyeur) observes a stationary "window" looking out from Vancouver's Stanley Park. The film is constructed as a (Lumiere) one-shot; the camera is set on a stationary tripod and we passively observe the action until the gun goes off. Here, cinema and voyeurism reach an almost absurd level of reduction.
Gallagher's most successful film dealing with the structuralist problematic is Seeing in the Rain (1981). A ride on the downtown-bound Granville Street bus is fragmented-segmented to the rhythms of the windshield wiper. The normal chronology of forward movement is altered, so that each beat of the wiper (accompanied by a metronome beat) triggers a cut in the temporal continuity. The jumping back and forth in time is unified by a view of the same road and the inevitable movement down it. Gallagher's clever use of montage exposes the very nature of film continuity. Here, also, the influence of Chris Welsby may be noted.
Terminal City (1982) presents the notion of hyperbole informing structure. The Devonshire Hotel is imploded ("controlled demolition") and filmed from a set camera angle at varying speeds (as high as 200 frames per second). Viewers of the event are documented on the sound track, also at varying speeds of playback. Although this film shares a common interest in extreme slow-down techniques with the early sixties' Fluxfilms (the 5 mm. blink, the 15 mm. smile, etc.), Gallagher's use of these techniques is directed at the voyeurism inherent in social events seen as "art" (including his own film).
In 1983, Gallagher returned to synaesthetic expression and looped structurings of image/sound with the completion of Mirage. The film features a repeating image of a Hawaiian woman disrobing and dancing for the camera. This image is synchronized with a sound-track loop (from Elvis' Blue Hawaii) that suggests (as ironic counterpoint) the "mourning" of culture. The image-sound is every scopophilic voyeur's dream ("She'll dance for me"). Negatively superimposed on the central image are "snapshots" of Hawaii, palms, volcanic-fire fountains, surf, historical footage of Pearl Harbor, performances for tourists.
The diegesis is all fantasy and metalanguage — the language of tourist myths. The film restates some of the avant-garde interests in loop imagery and expressionist overlays, and offers ironic comment on fantasy and voyeurism.
However, Mirage was completed at a time when the issues of voyeurism and pornography had reached the status of public outcry. The parody that is offered in place of critique aligns with reinforcement of voyeurism. It tends to invoke the "pleasure principles" and coded conventions of dominant cinema by foregrounding the rhetorical invention (the nude woman) with the same degree of mystique and "unattainability" that classical cinema has accorded women for years. The problems inherent in a work attempting to be both "art" and "critique" resolve themselves at the level of positioning. As Nichols posited: "The informing ideology may indeed be put on display, but this may only involve a sophisticated game of displacing it from one level only to reinsert it at another." 15 This is precisely the "mirage" of Gallagher's use of irony and voyeurism.
AN ADDED PERSPECTIVE
If Gallagher generally fails to address his own social positioning, he nevertheless often succeeds in displacing the cultural "facts" of his films onto a mythic-philosophical plane, where they can be looked at with a different kind of detachment. Thus The Nine O'Clock Gun, placing clock-time in the quotation marks of the 400' take, provokes a contrast between life as anticipation/duration and death as instantaneity; his literal approach to representation reinvests a symbol of power with its original meaning, and invokes a social order in which the tools of imminent apocalypse are ubiquitous yet invisible. Terminal City's blank stare transforms urban demolition into a pseudo-Noh ritual, complete with wailing chant from the participant onlookers and the final ascent of the building's ghost to heaven. Seeing in the Rain seems to playwith Zeno's arrow paradox (an aesthetic subject particularly relevant to a medium that rests on the illusion of motion created by the motionless sampling of movement) by fragmenting and restructuring the line of forward motion almost cubistically; again, the result reveals a mythic dimension, the science-fiction of space-time, which challenges our habitual orientation procedures. Gallagher's deadpan imagination, at its best, transcends his models to create structures refreshing in their metaphoric implications and richer for their serio-comic ambivalence.
SOME OTHER "PERSONAL" FILMMAKERS
Several filmmakers have contributed isolated yet notable personal statements to seventies' filmmaking, including Bill Roxborough (Imaged Dream, 1973), Rick Patton (Night of Samhain, 1974), Ellie Epp, and Richard Martin.
Ellie Epp's only completed film, Trapline (1975), is an experiment in relating image and sound through the parameter of perspective. The visuals consist of flattened, painterly semi-abstractions, isolating slow transformations of light and structure, and were shot in various parts of London's Kensington Baths. These long discrete visual moments, generally in medium shot, are related to each other as representations of an actual space only through the soundtrack, an apparently continuous recording emphasizing reverberance, depth and volume. As an in vestigation of cinematic space, the film owes a debt to Michael Snow. Yet it is remarkable for its c6ntemplative quality: its heightened perception of the actual evokes a pure, ideal vision.
Richard Martin has made two short films of interest. Your Daughter is Sleeping (1978) is an essay in combining autobiography and invented narrative. His next film, Diminished (1979), reveals that Martin has found a more satisfying way of dealing with the interface that interests him, that of personal feelings and making images. The film is dedicated to his step-father. Its form is simple: an antique photograph of a little boy, progressively obscured by white streaks and blotches, frames a central sequence of continually dissolving stills depicting moments from a hospital visit. A transitional snapshot of a middle-aged couple links, by implication, the little boy and the hospital room. There is no further clarification, although the two brief subtitles ("no not alone," "I love you") posit the filmmaker as eye and his relation to the empty hospital bed: a relation involving time, loss, and a looking again at the images that remain. Tougas' Far from Quebec comes to mind — the more so as the boy seems to be a mid-19th century image and thus is probably not the man in the snapshot. It's as if Martin is attempting to come to terms with his grief by universalizing it. He succeeds in telling his own life through everyman's. The film is very poignant: its delicacy and reserve speak emotion. One hopes that Martin, and Epp, both of whom have demonstrated a talent for imagistic autobiography, will continue to work with symbolic and first-person forms.
AVANT-GARDE DIRECTIONS IN THE EIGHTIES
Avant-garde film is hardly a closed issue. Throughout its traumatic history of accomplishments and failures it has featured sudden bursts of activity, manifestos, and displacements of its predecessor forms. A critical perspective usually arises after the practice.
The militancy of avant-garde film is predicted on opposition to present societal norms, cultural institutions, language. Truly, there are many avant-gardes that could lay claim to these qualities. Some we could characterize as "bourgeois" by the very nature of their interest in a return to supreme forms of individuality. Likewise, we may note the exis tence of an idealist (teleological) practice that affirms final "cause" through symbology, whether emanating from the Occident or Orient. There are many others: an avant-garde dominated by fetishism and the unconscious, a fine-arts film avant-garde which attempts to identi fy with modernist/post-modernist impulses, and so on. But it is the avant-garde that precipitates societal change and challenges the fundamental ideologies of any given culture that I wish to acknowledge.
This "socialist avant-garde" (for lack of a better term) is becoming an important practice within film and video. One need only examine the current surge of periodicals dedicated to these interests to identify their strength. The fine-art galleries will be a venue for this work only when it "expires". For at the root of socialist-art practice are the pragmatics of its practice: it seeks to displace the cultural vestige of bourgeois ideology and the infrastructure that supports it. By comparison, we can see that the more conservative (bourgeois and capitalist) strategies within the "avant-garde" serve to "mirror" their cultural contexts in a form that promotes mystification (of ideology, technology, personality) and includes the cultivation of individual fame and monetary gain (through sales and speculation).
There are several questions that must be posed for both socialist and conservative interests. No one can deny that the film medium has profoundly changed as an "art" form, as technology, as language. The "multiple-meaning ideograms" of Eisenstein are not those of the present generation, and do not fascinate us in the same manner; contemporary video and digital image processing are rendering much of cinema obsolete. (It is too expensive, its venues are too scarce, its machinery is antiquated.) We have seen resistance to video within the film-avant-garde, but this early "purism" is by now also an anachronism. We see technology emanating from a conception of "what is important" to man/womankind. And this conception directly implicates, rather than excludes, the notion of "consciousness". Collective art and consciousness do not emanate from anonymous masses abstractly configured under a unifying slogan. Collectivity is deeply rooted in the individual psyche. Technology and futurism cannot impose collectivity, only collective consumerism.
The "kingdom of the unconscious" (notably of the sixties) developed its own apparatus/technology and accompanying synaesthetic "language form". (Some of this technology sits in our living-rooms as video recorders, or emanates via advertising.) Its purpose was seemingly to revive the lost pleasure principles of society and to elevate individual-subjective vision to the status of collective universality. It denounced both bourgeois and historical art practice, and substituted visionary im pulse and poesis. It also lost the war with reality, as the consumerism of the seventies indicated. Its loss was predicated on the fact that it could never "become conscious". Becoming conscious, posited Freud, "is connected with the application of a particular pysical function, that of attention". 16 I could ask, "attention to what?" Louis Althusser, writing on Brecht, proposed an eloquent answer:
An avant-garde film practice that is wholly self-referential and closed can never accede to, and affect, "the real". This is one of the illusions of bourgeois art practice — it creates aesthetic institutions that reify speculative abstractions (e.g. "art for art's sake") and seeks innovation in psychopathology (the "tormented genius"). Psychoanalysts have long maintained that great feats of expression are possible within an unconscious state of mind. The complexity of dreamworks and schizophrenic vision attests to this. The artist, through technological fetishism and narcissism, can project his "images" into the machine, and through the cinematic machine into the culture. This is the art that continually loses its battle with "the real", yet produces work of exquisite imagistic proportions — work that resides in bourgeois "art banks".
There are many forms that avant-garde film in the eighties will take, and one of those forms will be based on direct political contact with a society that most will agree is in crisis. This avant-garde film form need not imitate "populist" models or dominant (feature) film conventions, nor be legislated into existence by the Canada Council. It arises from the conditions of social relevance and the reformation of existing cultural practice. Its catalogue is not in the art gallery, it is written on the walls of decay and "urban renewal".
The fateful question that Freud posed in his concluding remarks in Civilization and Its Discontents was directed at the issues of mastering "the human instinct of aggression and self destruction". We may also agree that this question, above all others, requires special interest and attention.
1. Rimmer's processing equipment usually featured a camera and projector system which allowed him to rephotograph existing film frames. Although his technology was crude, his technique was sufficent to render quality printings of the original footage.
2. Videosynthesis is typified by electronic (analog) manipulation of existing video signals and not the implementation of off-the-shelf store-bought hardware. While the commercial networks have "special effects" generators (and a rapidly increasing collection of synthesizer hardware), artist video tapes have historically been limited to primitive standards of combination and transformaton. The mid-70's curatorial biases were largely directed against synthetic video and other non-anthropomorphic video processes.
3. The actual videosynthesizer was constructed by Jim Armstrong and Al Razutis, with Armstrong credited as circuit designer and manufacturer (of processing modules) and Razutis being responsible for the overall concept and design. The synthesizer featured a quantizer, mixer, and colourizer, as well as interface units to bio-feedback monitors.
4. This holographic film prototype was the first of its kind in Canada. It was a complete 360-degree animated strip, and as such should not be confused with the cylinder "Integrams" (the colour pseudo-holograms) produced by Multiplex in the U.S.
5. The process of constucting filmic texts is one that emphasizes the "signs" of production and the qualities of the signifying material (emulsion, editing conventions, cinematography, opticals). Codes that are specific to cinematic texts must be recognized if the process of "reading" the text is to take place.
6. A. Razutis, America Film StudyGuide, privately duplicated, 1982.
7. Pacific Cinematheque Program Guide (Mar. 1981).
8. "Origin of Film: The Visual Essays of Al Razutis. Part 1: The Bachelor Machine Courts Disaster," Independent Eye (Toronto: Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre, Winter 1982).
9. A. Razutis, unpublished notes.
10. From the film's prospectus and a later unpublished description by Black.
11. In Japan, silent films were explained and interpreted to the audience by the benshi, a lecturer-narrator who sat on a platform beside the screen. Some benshi's were more famous than movie stars.
12. "Byron Black, Celestial Joker", Cantrill's Filmnotes #20 (Melbourne: Dec. 1974, p. 13f.
13. Black worked his movie metaphors into an elaborate film-performance dealing with "the history of the motion-fixture industry" as image and illusion called Lites on the Wall (1977). Another performance piece, Errol's Errors, focused on the life/films of Errol Flynn as exemplary illusion. Black's performance venues included the Vancouver Art Gallery, Pacific Cinematheque, and especially the Western Front, where he had become friendly with Michael Morris.
14. Cage (as quoted by Brakhage in Metaphors on Vision) posited: "The relationship of things happening at the same time is spontaneous and irrepressible. It is you yourself in the form you have that instant taken. To stop and figure it out takes time."
15. Bill Nichols, Ideology and the Image (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1981), p. 64.
16. Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams (New York: Avon Books, 1965), p.632.
17. Louis Althusser, For Marx, trans. Ben Brewster (London: Verso Editions, 1979), p. 143.
Some of the films cited in this essay are available at the 'West Coast Film Archives'
housed at the Pacific Cinematheque - Vancouver, Canada.