Category Archives: cinema

TrainInk at the Figtree Theatre

Last week Atanas Djonov organised a SMIC screening at the Figtree Theatre at UNSW. Entitled TrainInk, the evening presented videos generated through the relative motion of the camera and the photographed subject. This may sound like a banal idea (aren't all "motion pictures" about this?) but the particular collection of works which Atanas assembled was both conceptually challenging and highly enjoyable. This is no mean feat, I reckon.

Some of the highlights for me:

An Equal and Opposite Force (2004), by Sivanesan and Phelan.
In this piece, a man seems to walk down a busy street against the flow of pedestrians who walk backwards. While watching, it didn't take long to figure out the "trick" – that the walker had in fact walked backwards the whole way, and then the footage was reversed. Simple. But the effect was entrancing. The mind's ability to understand, conceptually, what was "actually" happening, battled constantly with the eye's desire to interpret the protagonist's walking as normal, and all the other pedestrians as "wrong". This effect was enhanced by his shadowed face hidden inside a hoodie – so we had no access to the weirdness of the situation which would have no doubt registered in his face. The tightness of the work (it was "just one simple idea," well executed) was bent slightly when the walker stopped occasionally to pick up ten cent coins from the sidewalk (ie, during filming, he had put the coins down). This introduced an alternative formal rhythm to the piece, besides the rhythm of footsteps. It also suggested some sort of narrative (reverse busking perhaps, for an odd street performance?)

All Quiet on the Western Front (2005), by Jamil Yamani
Again, an incredibly simple performance for video. Two men sit opposite each other at a dining table. One is dressed in traditional Muslim clothing, and eats an Indian meal, with his hand. The other, dressed like a western businessman, eats meat and three veg with a knife and fork. The Muslim diner has a glass of milk, or a lassi. The western diner has beer and wine. The piece evolves in real time. The men eat their meals. It takes about nine minutes. The tension in the room (both theirs and ours) is thick. Occasionally, one of them looks up thoughtfully, as if he's got something to say to the other. Neither says anything, although the western man burps loudly a few times. This piece was perhaps the most "still" of the videos presented – both the camera and the subjects were anchored to the floor. For me, All Quiet on the Western Front was largely concerned with audience expectation – that, by rights, "something should happen" during the course of our "consuming" a work of art. Of course, this desire for a crisis and resolution goes unsatisfied. This tension between artwork and audience is assisted by the "indexicality" of the work – the fact that it unfolds in real time – and that the real time of the eating corresponds to the real time of our sitting in a cinema watching the eating. (postscript – it seems that the two men were BOTH played by Yamani himself – in which case, clever editing!!)

I also enjoyed Yamani's Coming Together (2005), in which a single piece of footage (shot from a moving train) is duplicated, reversed, and threaded back upon itself to form a left-vs-right motion-tension. It's difficult to describe the effect – at the beginning of this short piece, the motion is mainly to the left, with only short bursts of motion to the right interspersed. Through some sort of simple arithmetic, this trend is reversed over the course of the film, and we finish moving in the opposite direction from which we started. The process of transferral from left to right is perceptible, just. Again, although it sounds complex, the work is simple, and enjoyable to watch.

Two works by John Hobart Hughes using stop motion animation, shot in bright sunlight. In the first, The Wind Calls Your Name, shots of a landscape (around Broken Hill?) are "brought to life" by being temporally chopped up and put back together again frame by frame. In fact, I think this work was made with individual shots from a digital camera, each shot one frame, assembled like a gorgeous colour flip book in the computer. The second work, Removed, extends this stop motion technique, introducing a narrative element through a mysterious character – the "shadow self" (literally a human shadow) who tries to come to life by assembling pieces of scrap metal around his form. This piece was clever, visually pleasurable, and managed (surprisingly) to avoid becoming a simple fairytale cliche. Actually, I found myself feeling rather sympathetic to the plight of the shadow-man, although I understood the emergence of his "darker" side (revealed at the end of the film, when he kills a real human) to be kind of inevitable. Like Yamani's dinner scene, both the shadow-man and the flesh-man he kills are played by the filmmaker himself.

Atanas Djonov presented three works which I enjoyed:

In Eisenstein’s Montage Powered by Google (work in progress, 2005), Djonov plays "word associations" with a complex aesthetic tract (in fact it is an excerpt from Russian filmmaker Eisenstein’s Film Sense). Each word of the tract is read out by a male voice, and at the same time an image flashes up on the screen. Sometimes these images are direct "illustrations" of the word, and other times they seem only obscurely associated. Either way, they flicker before our eyes almost too quickly to be apprehended consciously, and strangely, the effort to do so meant that I missed the overall content of the passage of text as well. The programme notes inform that the images are generated by word searches in google.

A short work by Djonov, Renaissance – an odd animation in which a flag atop a medieval tower rises and falls, in some sort of communication with a brick clocktower. A surrealist sketch lasting only a few seconds.

My highlight of the evening was Djonov's Wide-Open Fields (2005). Shot from a train moving through a desolated Bulgarian agricultural landscape, and accompanied by a live rendition of a Bulgarian song by the choir Nothing Without Belinda. The choir stood up at the back of the cinema, reading their songsheets by candlelight. The "subtitles" – English translation of the words to the song – appeared on the video screen. The song asked "who will look after our fields, when the great X [presumably the name of a great leader, I have forgotten] is gone? / who will look after our women, when the great X is gone? etc etc". The juxtaposition of this rousing propaganda, sung live and loud in the space of the theatre, with the devastated landscape, was very strong. It was a warm and poignant use of an "expanded cinema" technique.

Nothing Without Belinda then took to the stage and sang eight more rousing, fun, or sad pieces from around the world, including an East Timorese solidarity song.

PS: I also enjoyed Allan Giddy's The Crossing (2004) – sounds are triggered by the passing of differently coloured cars under a bridge. The music they generate is quite beautiful, and this is what pushes The Crossing beyond a mere "trigger-gimmick".

MJWF / SquatFest Review

The weekend of the 26/27th February 2005 was a biggie. On the 26th was the MJWF’s (Marrickville Jelly Wrestling Federation) Ripe Age event at the Turrella TerrorDrome. The MJWF is a burgeoning organization which began from humble garage and backyard wrestle events in Marrickville. It’s hard to really explain to someone who hasn’t experienced this kind of thing before… It’s something of a cross between a DIY version of WWF (now WWE) wrestling (Hulk Hogan etc.) and a very serious costume party…

(to read the rest of this article, go to )

Has the Film Already Started?

Rummaging through old books recently I found a copy of the 1990 Experimenta Film Festival Catalogue (Melbourne). That year, six Lettrist films were shown, introduced by French filmmaker and writer Christian Lebrat. I was excited to see that some of the films were, at least in their original manifestations, "expanded" in nature (projections onto balloons, turning the entire screening into a participatory performance etc).

Maurice Lemaitre's film entitled Has the Film Already Started?, (Le film est déjà commencé?) for instance, involves locking the audience out of the cinema for an hour during which they are subjected to abuse and shown a different film altogether.

My favourite bit from Lebrat's catalogue essay about the event is this:

Lemaitre remarked to me in 1985 that “this film sought to be a kind of general butchering of the cinema.” He also wanted to make the spectators participate during the screening. Originally, at the premiere in Paris on December 7, 1951, the screening was completely disturbed: drapery covered the usual screen, actor-spectators in the theatre conversed with the screen, people went onto the stage. There were diversions at the entrance, diversions on the pavement outside, and so forth. Near the end of the film the manager of the theatre announced to the public that he had to stop the film because the projectionist couldn't find the last reel. Lemaitre's screenplay even included the intervention of the police at the end of the performance – and they actually arrived.
The screenplay begins: “A pink moving screen will stand at the entrance to the theatre, in the night. One hour before the screening a projectionist will show Griffith's “Intolerance” on this screen. The start of the film will be announced at 8.30 but no one will enter before 9.30. During these 60 minutes of waiting, people on the first floor of the building will shake out very dusty carpets, and someone else will throw ice water on the heads of those spectators waiting for the screening. Some actors who have infiltrated the crowd will insult other actors on the first floor. At this moment only, and to stop the beginning of a scandal, the doors of the theatre will open…”

I have a longer extract from Lebrat's essay transcribed here.



In early February 2004 Jane and I attended the excellent Media City film and video festival in Windsor, (Ontario, Canada). Windsor is the city that Mike Moore features (briefly) in Bowling for Columbine, as a contrast to Detroit (which is just across the river in the USA). Canadians, he claims, leave their doors unlocked, and don't kill each other with guns, even though they still own a lot of them. Well, we don't know about the guns, but have yet to meet any Canadians who admit to leaving their front doors unlocked. So, Moore might have been taking a little cinematic licence on that one. In Detroit, however, there are plenty of open doors, windows, and rooftops just asking to be walked into. In a one hour walk from downtown up Woodward Street towards the Detroit Institute of Arts, (where we saw the amazing Diego Rivera Industry mural) we shot almost 60 empty buildings, including some stunning old skyscrapers – and, a short walk away, the sombre ex-Railway Station, apparently empty for more than 20 years. I have posted the pics up here.

Scooting around the web, it's obvious that I am by no means the first to document some of the abandoned sites of Detroit. The excellent Infiltration gang has a whole page o' links, and this local infiltrator at detroitblog has strong and sometimes convincing views about the city's empty spaces as a rich architectual heritage (not needing fixing), evidently a view not shared by the blightbusters group, who want to buy 'em up, fix 'em up (or knock 'em down). There is also an article about trees growing on the rooftops of long-forgotten downtown blocks, and a very thorough photographic tour, and spirited discussion forum about Abandoned Detroit. A very funny (though in the end quite sobering) weekly "un-real estate" listing is posted in the Detroit Metro Times newspaper. There's heaps more if you have time and are handy on google. It's obviously a big issue for many many locals.

Gordon Matta-Clark’s Films and Videos

While I was at the CCA for the Teddy Cruz lecture, I also checked out the Gordon Matta-Clark exhibition. He's on show with 3 architects – Cedric Price, Aldo Rossi, and James Stirling, in a show called Out of the Box / Sortis du Cadre.

Matta-Clark was the New York artist most famous for Splitting, a project in which he cut a house in two. He died in the late 1970s from cancer, which is a shame, as his work seems to have become very influential only recently. He co-founded a restaurant called FOOD, in SoHo, in the early 1970s – a project very much about creating a social space (…rather than an economic enterprise – the restaurant went broke after a few years.) He made architectural cuts into houses, office spaces, and vast steel warehouses, both with an eye to formal concerns (transfer of light, underlying construction, shapes etc), and to social concerns (such as real estate markets and anarchist-squatted buildings).

None of his significant projects exists today in any form other than documentary photographs, texts, stories, object fragments, super8/16mm films, and video tapes. I find his activities inspiring precisely because they exist in an imaginary state – and have not been fetishised into "mere" art objects.

Out of the Box presents video and film documents from Matta-Clark's work. In some cases, the video seems to be rough documentary evidence, say of various urban explorations (as in Paris Underground, or Substrait (from New York )), whereas other pieces are constructed as films in themselves. Indeed, some of the films were shown in the CCA's theatre, including Food, Fresh Kill, and Chinatown Voyeur. Jane and I went to some of these screenings late last year.

As interesting as Matta-Clark is, I found some of his "stand alone" films to be less-than satisfying. Perhaps this was because I was hungry for any information I could get my hands on about the artist and his activities – yet films like Food and Chinatown Voyeur were too piecemeal when presented within a cinema context.

Perhaps this is only to be expected. FOOD (the restaurant), unlike Splitting, is a complex and unwieldy project – it can't be summed up with a sequence of well-framed shots. What Food, the film, presents, is a day in the life of the restaurant: disorganised (bounced cheques); grisly (gutting and cutting a fish); chaotic (a dozen raucus friends gathered for lunch, and dishes piling up on the table); and also beautifully poetic (the final sequence showing the kneading and baking of bread). It left me wanting more, and made me feel like I, too, could open up a restaurant – and wouldn't it be fantastic! One thing it didn't do, though, was leave me feeling intimidated about the process of making a documentary film…

Fresh Kill, on the other hand, was specifically made for cinema viewing, using a professional film-crew. It's a kind of film-poem about the trashing of Matta-Clark's old red pick-up truck, as it is left at the garbage dump, and crushed, repeatedly, by bulldozers, until no longer recognisable. The analogy implied in the title is fairly obvious – the red truck is a sacrificial cow gored by predators, and picked over by vultures (there are many shots of circling gulls). I think Jane felt it was a bit too un-reconstructedly macho, but I wasn't so sure, I felt it was simultaneously beautiful and ironic.

The screening of Fresh Kill was juxtaposed with a bizarre early Spielberg number, which certainly deserved Jane's irritation. Entitled Duel, the film was a "made-for-TV feature starring Dennis Weaver as a motorist plagued by a crazed truck driver." The truck repeatedly tries to run the car off the road, but is eventually fooled by the fed-up motorist, and ends up flying off the edge of a cliff in a ball of flames. It's ghastly, but arguably simpler and better than a lot of Spielberg's later work.

Chinatown Voyeur, I would argue, shouldn't have been screened in a theatre context at all. Matta-Clark filmed the cracks in windows, looking into peoples apartments, one hot hot New York summer night. What you get on screen is a totally black field with these white punctuated window spaces, and some very minor activity within. like an old fella washing his jocks and hanging them to dry. It is long and boring. Shortly after seeing the film, I wrote:

"Chinatown Voyeur was originally intended to be projected ON THE SIDE OF BUILDINGS out in the street. Can you imagine? It would punch a window into a solid wall! And you wouldn't be forced to sit there like a zombie in the cinema watching the thing, it would be as fascinating as being a real voyeur looking up at windows, wondering what would happen next."

Matta-Clark's film and video work presented on monitors within the exhibition itself is all fairly watchable. I particularly liked Tree Dance, a series of super8 moments documenting dancers cavorting in custom-made hammocks and coccoons strung up in a huge old tree. And Splitting, of course, is captivating from start to finish, not only for the wonderful taboo-breaking house-sliced in two, but also for the film's home-made construction – the inter-title sequences look like they were pieced together manually on the kind of text board used for school class photos.
[ Post-script #1: This "problem" about how to go about presenting or re-staging work (specifically in relation to Matta-Clark) is taken up by Lisa Lefeuvre in an article called The W-hole Story. Originally published in Art Monthly Magazine (UK) April 2002 / No 255, pp12-15. I recommend it. She asks, and then makes a good attempt to answer:
"what does it mean to place an artist working some three decades ago within these contemporary discourses? How can an artist of the 70s who made ephemerality a part of his practice be allied to the present?" ]
[ Post-script #2: some Gordon Matta-Clark links:
Matta Clarking, a thesis generously posted online by architect Robert Holloway. I haven't read it yet. Also at this site there is a page of links to other GM-C sites. Some of these links don't work, but a few definitely seem worth perusing, especially Visceral Facades: taking Matta-Clark's crowbar to software by Matthew Fuller. ]
[ Post-script #3: an email from Jake:
"You're a bit tough on Duel, which I think is pretty good myself, but maybe it was the wrong context for it."
Jake, you're right, I was a bit harsh there. Sometimes I can be sloppy and cavalier in my judgement – but thinking back to the screening itself, I think I actually enjoyed watching Duel. It was such a simple concept, without all the pretension of plot and moral-of-the-story etc. It's just this bizarre situation where an ordinary fellow is targeted for no reason by an insane truckie, and begins, in a way, to go mildly insane himself. I think it quite successfully captured that "I can't believe this is happening to me!" sensation that you get when involved in a car accident or near-death experience. So, in that its ambitions were fairly low, I think it was a sturdy piece. I also liked how the maniacal driving of the truckie was superimposed on an otherwise banal and extremely ordinary situation…a salesman returning home, listening to the radio in his car…which sets it apart from The Dukes of Hazzard, for instance. ]

Tim Hilton at SquatFest 2001

[written by Heath O’Brien]

got to tha broadway squats just on dark..stumbled out
of carolines white/sunroofed/roofracked beamer(BMW)- not very pc
for a squatfest i realise however we were pumping japanese 80’s pop.
so, immediately i lose my new goggles…thats ok cos
the lovely michaelscaviellero of imperial slacks spots me & we
meet/greet etc. we knab a skanky futon practically under the
‘bigscreen’ in front of the ballistic speakers & kick back as the first vids
begin…..i ask him if he’s seen u…..who?…he tells me he has
a couple of flicks showing….so does hilton i reply.
about 3 shortfilums later, a lone flyingfox swoops
overhead, and a subtle instantly recognisable beat ..or is it a
clap or pulse…nailsmy attention to the silverscreen.
everyone is silent, basking in the hypnotic rhythym
and pusating gorgeous ‘music{}response’sorial psalm.
now eveyone is intensely aware of the experiance,
there is an electric sense of expectation and a palpable curiousity in the
air mingled with an uncanny familiarity as if we are immersed in a
primeval collective memory.
tension uncannily mounts.
i check the audience – rivetted!
people love it but dont know why!
they want more yet cant take much longer…there is a
whimper from some pleb chik, a question? a moan?
the film peaks—the crowd, silent almost reverent
till now applaud as one.
relieved admiration and a sense of true wonder as we
marvel @ the elegance of your little flic.
the final 20 seconds were genuinely gruelling however
addictve / intoxicating…
imperial slacks calls it “mesmerising”
well received by all .. great interest evident..big
kudos claps

the sound was sensational… loud were i was
almost distorted so beautifully juxtaposed on the pinkneon visual yet
remarkably concordant.

an eager voice calls for identity, who was that auteur ?!

“yay…yay timhilton !” i give ’em the goods… she
recognises you so i give her my email 2 contact u…..some

all in all a true highlight … exploit the medium harness!
do us a favour.

for more on Tim Hilton go here and here