projection 5:

The Practice of Anti-Illusion
A selection of materialist films and film-performance by guest Canadian filmmaker John Super8 Porter 

4pm / 31 Aug 2012  
Upstairs at the Ha'penny Bridge Inn (Dublin)

In an attempt to re-define the controversial term Structural Film, coined by American critique P. Adams Sitney in the late 1960s, English filmmaker and theorist Peter Gidal advocated the expression "Structural/Materialist Film" a decade later referring to the practice of avant-garde filmmakers that were revealing and destroying illusionist aspects of cinema. The practice of anti-illusion consisted in dismantling the technical elements that make possible a “suspension of belief” during the act of perception, or the willingness of a person to accept as true the representative and illusionary premises of a work of fiction. The darkness of the cinema venue, the omnipresence of the screen and traditional narrative lines tend to facilitate such redemption of reality in film.

Outstanding avant-garde filmmakers such as Michael Snow, Paul Sharits, Birgit Hein or Ken Jacobs were exploring the material limits of the medium in the late 60s and 70s, exploiting the mechanics of filming and projection and its possibilities within the field of perception. The works we present on this month’s programme are, nonetheless, contemporary. Outer Space by
Peter Tscherkassky (Austria), Decasia: The State of Decay by Bill Morrison (USA), and -as Cork Film Festival preview of special guest John Porter, Calendar Girl,- share with the first materialist movement their assault on the illusionist nature of conventional cinema. They approach the materiality of film as a perishable, fragile matter, and exploring, degrading, literally fracturing the physical and aesthetic elements of the frame, they present a substantial difference with the earlier practice of anti-illusion: they work with found footage.

Working with original found footage –a term methodologically anchored in Dada
objet trouvé interdisciplinary works- offers a myriad of possibilities, as the works on this programme testify. Possibly, the most overwhelming visual distortion found in Outer Space, Decasia, and Calendar Girl, takes place in the very transformation of realistic imagery into a prism of abstractions in which unique codes between spatial representation and a quasi tri-dimensional layering of images is created. Working with found footage in these films seems ultimately to constitute a manifesto or a radical response to the overpowering presence of digital moving-imagery; a deliberate return to the artistic specificity of cinema's historical expression.

Following the historical genealogy of structural/materialist film in which, degrading the material until the most fundamental components of the medium are revealed –leading cinema, therefore, to a degree zero-, John Porter´s performance Scanning takes the anti-illusionist aesthetic to its logical conclusion. If, after all these experimentations there weren’t many possibilities left in terms of materialist filmmaking, the projection situation had to change, as many artists involved in exhibition and expanded cinema demonstrated in the 70s. Cinema now wanted a body –that corporeal presence which had remained the prerogative of theatre-, and, in the case of performance, that body could be the filmmaker himself manipulating the projector, the audience, or the event itself. Such practice is, in short, in search of new forms of experience, which directly integrate art into life. Beyond the traditional confines of film’s materiality, a cinematic happening as Scanning not only comes accompanied by the activation of the audience; it overcomes the dichotomy of object and depiction, production and reproduction, presence and representation, reality and illusion.

(DVD, 2002, color, sound, 67mins.)
Music by Michael Gordon.

Decasia is an expressionistic film founded on the tension between the hard fact of film's stained, eroded, unstable surface and the fragile nature of that which was once photographically represented. In its fascinating distortion and analysis of destruction, Morrison’s film could be interpreted as a collage of archival footage shot ahead of the 1950s on a celluloid nitrate base, most of it found in advanced stages of decay. Morrison slowed down the footage in order to allow a greater appreciation of the dramatic effect of the severe emulsion deterioration. The aural dissonances of Michael Gordon’s modernist symphony –a soundtrack that decays itself- reinforce the hypnotic effect of Decasia. Gordon took the orchestra to musical extremes by detuning the instruments and using prepared pianos which further emphasize the powerful hallucinatory visual experience.

Decasia´s website:


(16mm, 1999, b/w, sound, 9.58mins.)

Tscherkassky is an Austrian avant-garde filmmaker who uses "found footage" and heavy frame-manipulation while editing. His films present a violent force of disjointed narrative and a subversive plot against the conventions of fictional cinema. Outer Space begins with strong implications of genre - a dark suburban landscape with a woman (Barbara Hershey from Sidney J. Furie's 1981 film The Entity) moving towards a dubious sanctuary. As much as the footage was chosen for Hershey's manic performance -attacked by an invisible demon, which in Tscherkassky´s film takes the form of mutilated celluloid-, the symbology of classic horror scenario turns as powerful as persuasive. As the woman reaches the door, the film gesticulates and whimpers. The woman turns the handle and as the door opens a great foreboding falls over the viewer. Slowly, the physical structure of the film reveals itself: images become ghosts of themselves, the soundtrack becomes aggressive and forceful, and our protagonist splits apart. Tscherkassky reduces the original work by subtracting the colour, and, by reworking it, superimposing images, fragmenting through rapid montage, sculpts new time and space rhythms.

Cork Film Festival preview:

(Super8 film performance, 1983, 3.5mins.); (Super8, 1981-88, color, sound, 3.5mins.)

John Porter belongs to the Funnel collective of independent filmmakers which began operation in Toronto in 1977. Porter was born in 1948. He made his first film, on Super-8, in 1968. Scanning is a series of One-shot Camera Dances, involving "surround super 8" projector dances performed live. Inspired by a projection by Anne B. Walters, Porter produces a continuing series of silent film performances, with hand-holding a super 8 projector in front of the audience. He moves the projected image around onto all the walls and ceiling, following the camera movements in the film. In Calendar Girl, John Porter scratched and painted on a sync-sound, super 8 copy of a black & white, 1960s, pop music film (Scopitone), which he made by aiming his camera at his old black & white TV. Porter's scratches and strokes exaggerate and comment on the sexism in "music videos" of all generations.

Curated by Esperanza Collado.

See Cork Film Festival website for more details about special guest John Porter: