projection 3:

Play and Destruction
Guest artist: Irish Underground filmmaker Vivienne Dick

4pm / 18 May 2008  
Upstairs at the Ha'penny Bridge Inn (Dublin)

This month’s programme of films looks at an aspect of experimental cinema that is not always brought to the fore. Particularly now that experimental film is seen as more and more connected to the fine art scene and its conceptual and formal concerns, the fact sometimes gets neglected that performance, fantasy, theatricality, genre—and, last but not least, fun—have all been important tools in avant-garde film.

The three filmmakers who’s work we are presenting today —
Adolfo Arrieta, Jack Smith and Vivienne Dick—are powerful examples of this. In their work, each filmmaker draws on elements of genre and narrative that will be familiar to any viewer from commercial cinema. What makes it impossible to confuse these films for anything that might come out of Hollywood is the radical way in which these elements are twisted and reinvented.

One of the key ways this is done is by bringing them back into an intimate and earthly context. While these filmmakers are emphatically not realists, all of them work in a low-budget, DIY context, often shooting handheld, using real locations or makeshift sets and unprofessional actors that contrasts starkly with the pristine fantasy of Hollywood cinema. Their stories may be otherworldly, but they exist in the imperfection of this one. Costumes have holes in them; special effects and camera tricks are less than seamless; the performer’s own existence outside the roles they are playing are more evident than usual.

In the context of mainstream cinema, the word used to encompass all these qualities is amateurism. However, if we accept these films on their own terms, such “amateur” qualities are not liabilities, but have their own distinct powers. By challenging viewers to accept and believe in the artifice, these films relate more to notions of theatricality and play then the verisimilitude of fantasy preferred by more “professional” cinema. They ask for, in the most positive sense, an almost childlike investment of your own imagination.

This is also what separates these films from documentary; even when, for example, Dick’s characters in She Had Her Gun All Ready, are walking around in the “documentary” reality of New York, their actions suggest the film’s interest in performance rather than behaviour. Individuals are presented not “as they are” but in the process of inventing themselves; always aware of the camera, they create their own persona. The social function of these films is also key: without these films, these people would not have been able to “invent themselves” or relate to each other in this way. This is the philosophy Arrieta calls “cinema as life and life as cinema”—filmmaking not as a record of life or an escape from it but a way of living it and making it more interesting.

The title of this programme is intended to represent the dual process these films represent: by taking elements of fantasy and genre and using them in their own lives, these filmmakers reclaim them as objects of play—as a way of reinventing reality rather than avoiding it. But by doing so they are also deconstructing—sometimes very much destroying—those elements as we understood them before. The play and destruction are two sides of the same thing….

(1978, 16mm, color, 27mins., New York) Distributed by Irish Film Institute

She Had Her Gun All Ready is one of the first films created by Irish filmmaker Vivienne Dick in New York in the late 70s. Sub-cultural forms such as the No-Wave and Punk movements, which rejected both mass-consumerism and the pretensions of institutionalized bourgeois art, are often associated with her films, leading to American film critics such as J. Hoberman (The Village Voice), to suggest that Vivienne Dick is the quintessential No-Wave filmmaker. She Had Her Gun All Ready, made in 1978 with Pat Place and controversial American artist Lydia Lunch, is “a dramatization of interrelational power politics between a bullyish woman (Lunch) and her wimpy companion” (S. MacDonald, 1981).

She Had Her Gun All Ready
shares preoccupations with other films by Dick such as Liberty's Booty (1980) and Beauty Becomes the Beast (1979): ‘transgressive behavior’, female sexuality, and the difficulty of relationships which can become empowering. Presented in a visually anarchic hand-held Super8 camera style and set within domestic environments and iconic New York sites, She Had Her Gun All Ready plays with notions of gender and changing identities, with the boundaries between artistic practices and life, between public and private space, theatre and its double.

(1966, 16mm, 20mins., Madrid) Distributed by Rosebud Films Madrid

Adolfo Arrieta / Alfo Arrieta / Adholfo Arrieta / Udolfo Arrieta is one of the most revolutionary characters of the Spanish late 1960s, who continually changes his name and dislikes the number 13. Made a few months before he moved to Paris -where Cahiers du Cinema had published an article about his film El Crimen de la Pistola-, and with precarious technical conditions, La Imitación del Ángel is a lyrical film that “combines an almost innocent love for adventurous narrative and cinematic illusion with a raggedly offbeat handmade style of filming” (Donal Foreman, 2007).

Arrieta’s films, often compared with Jean Cocteau’s anti-narrative and poetic style, are of a personal nature and underground in their formulation, which shares some notions with the artistic and political avant-gardes that emerged around May 68 in Paris. In an interview in 2008, Arrieta said: “I found out that a story can be fully developed in 4 meters (of film). I think films should not expand their stories according to durational laws predetermined by commercial standards and distributors (...) I do whatever inspires me, that's why I am my own producer, which financially ruins me, but its satisfying to make works that make me happy. I don't follow fashions or popular trends but in many occasions, I prefigured them. When "La Movida Madrileña" took place in Madrid in the 80s, I had already recorded that kind of environment.”

("La Movida Madrileña" is a Spanish sociocultural movement that shares many aspects with No Wave culture. It took place in Madrid during the first ten years after the death of Franco in 1975 and represented the economic rise of Spain and the new emerging Spanish cultural identity. The early provocative films of Pedro Almodovar and Ivan Zulueta are often considered representative works of this movement).

(1963, 16mm, b&w, 43 mins., New York) Distributed by FDK Arsenal Berlin

Flaming Creatures is the most notorious film by American radical photographer, queer film and performance artist Jack Smith. The film was banned almost everywhere it was shown, and Jonas Mekas was arrested in 1964 for screening it in New York. In its graphic depiction of sexuality, it compellingly broke a number of taboos, while narrative, performance/behavior and heterosexuality become subjects of play and destruction in the film.

Like Broadway on Mars, Flaming Creatures is an innovative and idiosyncratic film that combines mythology with Ali Baba, and the most playful camp aesthetic of delirium with elements of socio-cultural critique. Ambiguous sexualities and identities are explored in Flaming Creatures throught a cast of drag queens, mermaids, vampires, naked poets, and other "creatures" that undoubtedly recreate in subversive manners the secret raptures Smith experienced in his youth through Hollywood kitsch and glamour, the Diva worship of Maria Montez, and the imagery of 1940s monsters movies. “The film is a fantasy of Androgynes and Travestites in which flaccid penises and bouncing breats are so ambiguously equated as to disarm any distinction between male and female.” (J. Tartaglia, 2002). Smith was an important influence on filmmakers such as Vivienne Dick, George Kuchar, Andy Warhol, ken Kacobs, John Waters and Scott and Beth B, and artists such as Cindy Sherman, Carolee Schneemann, and Richard Foreman.

Curated by Esperanza Collado and Donal Foreman.