projection 12:

The Wizard of Oz... and Other Dreams
'The Gold Standard'
4pm / 29 Apr 2009  
Ha'penny Bridge Inn, Upstairs (Dublin)

Joseph Cornell's "Thimble Theatre", "Jack's Dream" and "The Children's Party" circa 1930 - 1970, with "The Wizard of Oz - a la 'Rose Hobart' circa 1925 - 2009.

" ... the old-time fairy tale, having served for generations, may now be classed as "historical" in the children's library; for the time has come for a series of newer "wonder tales" in which the stereo-typed genie, dwarf and fairy are eliminated, together with all the horrible and blood-curdling incident devised by their authors to point a fearsome moral to each tale. Modern education includes morality; therefore the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder-tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident."

This statement was made by the author of 'The Wizard of Oz', L. Frank Baum, in Chicago, in this month, April, of 109 years ago. To put it in context, Baum had just been editor of a silverite newspaper in South Dakota, from where he had been watching the intense American elections of 1896 and 1900. The Democrats intended to make silver money at the ratio of 16 ounces of silver to 1 ounce of gold, arguing that there was lots of silver out West, but the world's small stock of gold was controlled by wicked bankers in New York and London. The Republicans ran against this plan, but Baum supported the Democrats. With the abbreviation of 'Ounce' to 'Oz', in the financial lexicon of the day, the term 'Oz' must have abounded in the editor's articles. From his political perspective the wicked witches were in the East and West, the good witch was in the North ( an electoral mandate ), and the utopian 'Oz' was in the very centre of the country. After vanquishing the Wicked Witch of the East ( the Eastern bankers ) Baum's protagonist 'Dorothy' ( every woman ) frees The Munchkins ( the little people ) and with the witch's silver slippers ( the silver standard ), she sets out on the Yellow Brick Road ( the gold standard ) to the Emerald City ( Washington ), where they meet the Wizard ( the President ).

In attempting to write a modern children's story without moral undertones, if this was indeed his intention, it appears that the author, in this instance, may have completely failed. The Wizard of Oz, however, is not material to be taken lightly, as silent screen star, actor and director, Larry Semon discovered 20 years later. Semon had Baum's son working on adapting his father's material for the script of the 1925 silent version, but that didn't cut him the slack he expected and his career took a hit from the serious backlash against its differences from the original novel. He reconfigured it as a slapstick comedy with elements of political intrigue, but none that hark back to the election's witnessed by his screenwriter's father or the issues of the gold standard. The film uses a strange framing device, a man reading his daughter the novel ( even she's bored with the political mumbo-jumbo ). This device isn't so strange by modern standards, but the film has no yellow brick road, no witches, no toto, no munchkins, no emerald city and no recognizable version of the Wizard. In attempting to adapt a modern children's story without moral undertones as a movie of political intrigue, if this was indeed his intention, it appears that the author's son, in this instance, may have completely failed.

In the year of the release of Larry Semon's mis-directed revisioning of The Wizard of Oz, Joseph Cornell was converting to Christian Science after a 'healing experience' in New York. Surrealism was beginning to be felt in America and in November 1931 Cornell discovered Julien Levy’s newly opened gallery. He showed Levy some of his collages. They closely resembled the collages of Max Ernst. Through Levy, Cornell became acquainted with a wide range of Surrealist art as well as with various artists in New York, including Marcel Duchamp. In January 1932 he was included in the Surrealism exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery, the first survey of Surrealism in New York, to which he contributed a number of collages and an object. By the time of his first one-man show at the same gallery in November 1932 he had started producing his famous "shadow boxes". These were small circular or rectangular found boxes containing mounted or unmounted engravings and objects. At the same show, which was concurrent with an exhibition of engravings by Picasso, Cornell displayed 'Jouets surréalistes' and 'Glass Bells'. The former were small mechanical and other toys altered by the addition of collage, this use of toys suggesting the relationship between art and play.

This relationship between art and play is essential in Cornell's work, and the re-contextualizing of images and themes from fairy tales and children's stories is a running theme. His work also drew upon the basic Surrealist principle of the juxtaposition of unlikelies—“as beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella,” as Lautréamont put it. In the early 1930's Cornell started making films from off cuts of Hollywood B-movies and showreels. The source material footage for his shorter montages revolve around a fascinating mélange of: a children’s party; circus performers and animal acts; science documentaries, etc. Cornell cuts freely and intuitively from one to the other. A second look reveals all manner of visual rhyming—e.g. a circus strong-man lifts a chair with his teeth/kids apple-dunk at a party; or children fling confetti about/a chorus girl plays flamboyantly with feathers. An image of a twirling ballet dancer, overexposed against a pitch-black background, becomes an abstract pattern of fluid shapes, as if it were quicksilver darting about on a Petri dish.

At one point in "The Children's Party Trilogy", there is, curiously, footage of a little girl on a horse who is playing Godiva in a pageant and appears to be unclothed under her thick long tresses. It’s an innocent image that is also a tad unsettling. This is generally true of Cornell—there is great innocence and yearning and delicacy in his images, but they contain little spiky dissonances without ever shading into either carnal or outright disturbing.

P. Adams Sitney notes:

" In a way, Cornell’s wit is like that of Hans Christian Andersen, who can tell a story about an Emperor who exposes himself to a whole city, and especially to a little girl, without the readers noticing what is happening in the story. Successive generations of parents have proven the moral of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by seeing only the moral and blinding themselves to the exhibitionism. The children to whom they read it tend to titter; they understand what it is about."

Cornell’s best-known film is "Rose Hobart", a re-editing of an obscure B-movie jungle drama called East Of Borneo (1931) starring the equally obscure actress who gives the film its title. He stripped it of sound and eliminated all the strong plot points—a journey upriver through the jungle, a volcanic explosion—and instead edited together, blithely ignoring linearity and continuity and following only his poetic instinct, a collection of reaction shots, gestures and expressions. Sitney writes:

"Cornell’s montage is startlingly original. Nothing like it occurs in the history of the cinema until thirty years later. The deliberate mismatching of shots, the reduction of conversations to images of the actress without corresponding shots of her interlocutor, and the sudden shifts of location were so daring in 1936 that even the most sophisticated viewers would have seen the film as inept rather than brilliant. […] [He] used some shots just as they were fading out or just as a door was closing, omitting the main action. By wrenching the images out of their narrative function, he suddenly freed them, making them instruments of suggestion".

The manifesto of the author of one of the most lasting and potent children's stories, 'The Wizard of Oz', to the effect that " ... the old-time fairy tale, having served for generations, may now be classed as "historical" in the children's library; for the time has come for a series of newer "wonder tales" in which the stereo-typed genie, dwarf and fairy are eliminated" may have been more prophetic if it had been made by a pre-Surrealist Dada in relation to the emancipation from meaning achieved in Cornell's found footage films ...

This month, The Experimental Film Club presents Larry Semon's mis-directed 1925 adaptation of 'The Wizard of Oz', re-edited in the flavour of Joseph Cornell's 'Rose Hobart' and accompanied by a selection of Cornell's found film montages applying Surrealist principles to images from Children's culture - parties, circuses and fairy tales, made sporadically between 1930 and 1970 and left to a friend to finish. As L. Frank Baum's son attempts to re-contextualise his father's attempt at a 'modern' fairy tale, and as Cornell juxtaposes a puppet asleep by a fire in the cottage of Little Red Riding Hood with a slowly sinking pirate galleon, to be finished and scored by a friend, so friends and relations and subsequent generations are left to re-interpret and re-contextualise the works of artists, commercial and experimental. Perhaps Lautréamont's 'juxtaposition of unlikelies" can act as a kind of mesh through which a real emancipation of "the old time fairy tale", as Baum puts it, can truly occur. With such a powerful conversion device a far better ratio than 16 ounces of silver to 1 ounce of gold can be achieved by the 'gold standard', or 'Oz' of the art of assemblage.

Film-programme by Alan Lambert.

projection 11:

City Symphonies (Part 1)

4pm / 29 March 2009  
Ha'penny Bridge Inn, upstairs (Dublin)


"In this film, by showing certain basic aspects of a city, a way of life is put on trial... the last gasps of a society so lost in its escapism that it sickens you and makes you sympathetic to a revolutionary solution." Jean Vigo described the film in an address to the Groupement des Spectateurs d'Avant-Garde. ‘À Propos de Nice’ is a 1930 silent short film directed by Jean Vigo and photographed by Boris Kaufman. The film depicts life in Nice, France by documenting the people in the city, their daily routines, a carnival and social inequalities. A propos de Nice constructs around the central motif of the carnival a savage, frenetic vision of a superficial society in a state of putrefaction. As bold in its formal experimentation as it is in its gleefully morbid fascination with ugliness, the grotesque humour of its portraits of the holidaymakers that swarm over the Promenade des Anglais (sometimes suggestively intercut with shots of animals!) is brutally undercut by images of distressing poverty. The uneasy atmosphere of indolence and boredom boiling over into lustful frenzy while willfully ignoring the encroaching sense of death and decay that surround it makes this Vigo's darkest film. A propos de Nice limits itself to the death dance of caricatures, caricatures all the more startling for being stolen from life with a hidden camera. What is already present in A propos de Nice is Vigo's ability to capture the natural beauty of a real, non-studio setting and spontaneously elaborate on the impression, transforming the commonplace into the magical. His eye for atmosphere and detail would grow from film to film, but from the outset it was rooted in a documentary practice that simultaneously transcended the documentary."
(Le Cain, Maximilian., Senses of Cinema


Live music by Benedict Schlepper-Connolly (Dublin)

"I am an eye. I am a mechanical eye. I, a machine, I am showing you a world, the likes of which only I can see" Dziga Vertov

"I was returning from the railroad station. In my ears, there remained chugs and bursts of steam from a departing train. Somebody cries in laughter, a whistle, the station bell, the clanking locomotive...whispers, shouts, farewells. And walking away I thought I need to find a machine not only to describe but to register, to photograph these sounds. Otherwise, one cannot organize or assemble them. They fly like time. Perhaps a camera? That records the visual. But to organize the visual world and not the audible world? Is this the answer?"- Dziga Vertov

‘The man with Movie Camera’ is a silent feature length film directed by Dziga Vertov and photographed by his brother Mikail Kaufmann. It is shot in more than one city and depicts Soveit urban life in general. Vertov says in his essay "The Man with a Movie Camera" that he was fighting "for a decisive cleaning up of film-language, for its complete separation from the language of theater and literature. For Vertov, "life as it is" means to record life as it would be without the camera present. "Life caught unawares" means to record life when surprised, and perhaps provoked, by the presence of a camera This explanation contradicts the common assumption that for Vertov "life caught unawares" meant "life caught unaware of the camera."

"We all felt...that through documentary film we could develop a new kind of art. Not only documentary art, or the art of chronicle, but rather an art based on images, the creation of an image-oriented journalism" Mikhail Kaufmann.

‘Man with a Movie Camera’ is at once a documentary, a newsreel and an experimental film. It reveals Vertov’s deep criticism of a cinema and documentary tradition tied to narrative and literary structure. He deconstructs the image by using different camera techniques slow motion, fast motion freeze frame etc. In the use of these more abstract and cinematic techniques he reveals an everyday experience. Often using hidden cameras he seeks a new cinematic truth. The images become linked by chance, rhythm and visual connections.

Curated by Aoife Desmond.