AFW+NFSA #41 - Hello from Post-Modernity

Thursday 30 August, AFW / Arena Project Space, 2 Kerr St, Fitzroy, 7:30pm. $7.


Takashi Ito, Spacy, 1980-1 (1981, 10mins, 16mm colour/sound)


More than a film about space (a gym), time (10 minutes) and illusion (images of a gym versus the reality of the gym’s actual space) – all rigorously combined in an endless series – this 1981 short sees Japanese avant-garde filmmaker Takashi Ito grappling with the concept of the “mise en abyme” through the constant (illusion of) movement and recurring emergence rendered as a kind of visual velocity. Ito’s stuttering camera wanders through the gymnasium and dives into images of various parts of the gym, only to breach the framed threshold and arrive right back where it started. With Spacy, Ito imagines an endless tunnel/loop of accelerated cinema, navigating the very idea of perspective and exploiting its propensity for illusions of both space and time. In this way it is not un-like earlier accelerated cinema intensities by Ernie Gehr.



Peter Greenaway, Dear Phone (1976, 17mins, 16mm colour/sound)


Better known for his features, such as A Zed With Two Noughts (1985), British artist-filmmaker Peter Greenaway’s early short film, Dear Phone, combines surrealist-inspired images of iconic red telephone boxes in a variety of locations with images of the actual script (hand-written, heavily scored, nearly illegible). As an obscure narrative that is complex and witty, gently mocking the film-as-story, Greenaway’s attempt at subverting the traditional documentary where 'reality' (image track) is coerced by the 'truth' (voice-over sound track) suggests Dear Phone’s clear links with the work of the Breton and Aragon, as well as the British documentary movement (in the delivery of the voice-over), not to forget the thoroughly British tradition of nonsense verse.

In thirteen accounts about the uses and misuses of the telephone, Greenaway attempts to thwart and distort the philosophical notion of a “writers cinema” into what is pure Greenaway: teasing, eccentric and delightfully wacky cinema. The bizarre and wonderful stories are threaded together by the red phone booth and an unabashedly droll narration.



Manuel De Landa, Raw Nerves: The Libidinal Economy of Filmus Interruptus (1980, 29mins, 16mm colour/sound)


Since his early dalliance with filmmaking, Mexican-American writer Manuel De Landa (b. 1952) has published nine books of, and on philosophy, including the highly regarded War in the Age of Intelligent Machines (1991). A committed Deleuzian, he is currently a professor of philosophy in the architecture department of the University of Pennsylvania and a lecturer in architecture at Princeton, as well as teaching at the European Graduate School. ‘Like his films,’ writes Amy Taubin, ‘his lecture-performance style is like no other.’

Raw Nerves is also known as ‘A Lacanian Thriller,’ and has been labeled a ‘parody of film noir conventions’ in the NFSA listing, a film ‘which also employs narration, private eye style, and video graphics to transform the narrative into apparently farcical psycho-drama.’ But the thirty-minute film, Raw Nerves: A Lacanian Thriller, is also subtitled The Libidinal Economy of Filmus Interruptus, and is more than a throwaway gesture, even if it is set largely in a toilet stall and a couple of stairwells. Drawing heavily on Robert Aldrich’s transcendently trashy film noir Kiss Me Deadly (1955), and the neo-noir films of the ’70s which translated the expressionist black-and-white imagery of the original noirs into color that was either sun-bleached in the best of them or indiscriminate in the rest, De Landa’s stroke of genius was to gel the lights with clashing Day-Glo colors and project painted zigzags on the walls like some lysergic vision of noir’s signature window-blind shadows. The entire film, Taubin continues, ‘is a maniacal alienation machine. It hits an assaulting groove of sound and imagery in the first five minutes and never varies or pulls back. It’s a tour de force that needs to be seen to be believed.’

After Raw Nerves, De Landa pretty much stopped making films, although as a coda to his career, he turned a micro lens on cockroaches dying hideously after being sprayed with insecticide. This image is accompanied by a synthesized sound track of screams and groans. Titled Judgment Day (1983), the film is both spare and unsparing, eight minutes of what-you-see-is-what-you-get that nevertheless evokes myriad metaphoric readings, à la Jim Carroll’s infamous ‘art’ performance, recounted in his downtown diaries, Forced Entries. New York city was a very strange place to live and work in the 1980s.