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Pat O’Neill

Recently I made a joke in passing that the only way you know that either a film or filmmaker is great is if Manohla Dargis of the New York Times gives her stamp of approval. Looking back on this joke (which was neither funny nor really joke at all) I think subconsciously I was on […]

Recently I made a joke in passing that the only way you know that either a film or filmmaker is great is if Manohla Dargis of the New York Times gives her stamp of approval. Looking back on this joke (which was neither funny nor really joke at all) I think subconsciously I was on to something. It seems after further investigation that each artist, each film Manohla writes highly about indeed stands out and fails to disappoint.

Pat O’Neill is no exception.

In November of 2004, Dargis wrote a piece following his opening at the Rosamund Felsen gallery in California.The article, titled In the Studios’ Shadow, An Avant-Garde Eye, is a pointed essay that juxtaposes his “studio life” with his personal career. Dotingly referring to him as a “filmmaker who has brushed conceptual elbows with such radically different personalities as the avant-garde pioneer Maya Deren and that consummate commercial moviemaker George Lucas,” Dargis captures the range O’Neill has that many overlook.

At UCLA, O’Neill started to make films as a graduate student of photography and design. Soon after he learned and started to use optical printing techniques to garner multiple exposures. It was his understanding of optical printing that led him to found Lookout Mountain Films and later create visual effects for Hollywood features including George Lucas’ The Empire Strikes Back.

But for O’Neill film is and was not a means to an end in the lucrative sense—film was a personal expression that explored visuals and technique, sight and sound. He is thoughtful in his construction, thoughtful of how the sound and picture of a film can capture, engulf, disturb, move and tickle the viewer. Dargis summarized a clip from O’Neill’s short Last of the Persimmons, articulating how seemingly obscure his image and sound construction can be, yet when put together, becomes pure perfection :

“As the colors shift and deepen, turning the luridly red persimmon brown, Mr. O’Neill adds some pulsing animated shapes that look like doughnuts one second, flowers the next, and seem very much to be dancing to the accompanying song, “Is It Love?” by T.Rex.”

In looking at his work, it is quite clear that his multi-disciplinary background is what makes his films stand out. He is not just a photographer, not simply a designer or filmmaker. He is a conscious amalgamation of all his mediums.

tiff08.ca

O’Neill will be in the Walker Cinema tomorrow evening , Thursday February 19, to introduce his films Trouble in the Image, Sidewinder’s Delta, and Horizontal Boundaries for the third installation of Tribute to Experimentation, Expanding the Frame. With Horizontal Boundaries, O’Neill interprets the landscapes of Los Angeles and enhances this multilayered portrait with a new soundtrack and a dazzling 35mm print. In Sidewinder’s Delta, a title from the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson Film and Video Study Collection, optical printing is used to combine original material with images drawn from found films. Rounding out the program is Trouble in the Image, a multilayered work that took more than a decade to complete.

Each of these three films poignantly uses the respected medium to convey something, anything, and perhaps everything to the viewer.