Like all museum collections,the Ruben/Benston Film and Video Study Collection is only seen in small bits at a time. A revolving program of films from the archive can be found on monitors throughout the museum, but the majority of film reels, video tapes and all-manner-of other-moving-image-data-forms are in a temperature controlled vault somewhere in the basement.
As the theme of surplus developed for Red76’s Open Field-related residency, the Film/Video department drew attention to the collection as a set of materials the artists could mine as part of their project. The result is a film program curated by Red76 comrade Jeremy Rossen of Portland’s Cinema Project. Made up on works in the collection and a few rentals, this one-time series addresses the themes of surplus and counterculture in either form or content.
Here is the list of films on the docket, with Jeremy’s notes on each:
A Lecture by Hollis Frampton (1967, lecture / cassette tape, 30 min. Read by filmmaker David Gatten)
Hollis Frampton – photographer, theoretician, philosopher and, above all, filmmaker – is one of the towering figures of American avant-garde cinema. Possessed of a frighteningly prodigious and wide-ranging intellect – he was a voracious reader from childhood, and his films abound with evidence of his fascination with linguistics, science, mathematics and philosophy – combined with a witty and mischievous attraction to puzzles and game-playing, Frampton was active as a filmmaker for only a decade-and-a-half (his career cut tragically short by his death from cancer in 1984). But in that brief time he created a breathtakingly ambitious body of work, whose range and inventiveness are unsurpassed.
Early Abstractions by Harry Smith (1946-1957, 16mm, color, silent, 23 min.)
“You shouldn’t be looking at this as a continuity. Film frames are hieroglyphs, even when they look like actuality. You should think of the individual frame, always, as a glyph, and then you’ll understand what cinema is about.” – Harry Smith
Harry Smith’s (1923–1991) Early Abstractions is a set of seven films between two and six minutes in length produced between 1946 and 1957. Each film is numbered (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 10) in the order they were made. This numbering imposed an order and axis on these works from the beginning and suggests a commitment to a sustained “arc” that Smith undertook and achieved in his film-work.
In his first films, the Early Abstractions, there is a sense of a man meticulously building his animation practice from the ground up. This series of films documents a movement through technique, and through a growing mastery of camera-less direct to film animation leading to an embrace of cut-out and collage. This image construction moves from the blunt abstraction of form and rudimentary motion of the early pieces to 10‘s symbolic dance of Tarot Cards, Buddhist and Cabalistic Totems, highlighting, in the process, the films’ elliptical, surrealistic storytelling and graphic styles. — Dirk de Bruyn
In the Street by Helen Levitt (1952, 16mm, b&w, sound, 15 min.)
Photographer Helen Levitt’s short and deceptively simple film was a collaborative effort with fellow still photographer Janice Loeb and the critic and writer James Agee. Like much of Levitt’s photographic work, the film attempts to capture the lives of working-class people by documenting the ordinary activities of an Upper East Side neighborhood in Manhattan. Most poignant are Levitt’s candid views of children and the ongoing transformative drama that she reveals in the street.
My Name is Oona by Gunvor Nelson (1969, 16mm. b&w, sound, 10 min. Sound by Steve Reich and Patrick Gleeson)
My Name Is Oona captures in haunting, intensely lyrical images fragments of the coming to consciousness of a child girl. A series of extremely brief flashes of her moving through night-lit space or woods in sensuous negative, separated by rapid fades into blackness, burst upon us like a fairy-tale princess, with a late sun only partially outlining her and the animal in silvery filigree against the encroaching darkness; one of the most perfect recent examples of poetic cinema. Throughout the entire film, the girl, compulsively and as if in awe, repeats her name, until it becomes a magic incantation of self-realization.” – Amos Vogel
Take the 5:10 to Dreamland by Bruce Conner (1977, 16mm, color, sound, 5 min.)
An oneiric, autobiographic chapter in Conner’s cinema with a mysterious, evocative soundtrack by Patrick Gleeson.