Tuesday, May 27, 2008 at 8pm
Eyes Upside Down

An illustrated lecture by P. Adams Sitney

P. Adams Sitney will talk about movement and perspective in three short films, by Marie Menken, Ernie Gehr, and Stan Brakhage. He will illustrate the ways in which these films fulfill the promise of an American aesthetic first proclaimed by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1836 and promoted in different ways by Gertrude Stein, John Cage, and Charles Olson, among others. This program reflects the argument of his new book: Eyes Upside Down: Visionary Filmmakers and the Heritage of Emerson.

Films to be shown:

Arabesque for Kenneth Anger, Marie Menken, 16mm, 1961, 4 mins
"A new sound version of this classic film. It is a beautiful experience to see her fabulous shooting. The cutting is just as fabulous and is something for all to study; the new score by Teiji ito is 'out of this world' with its many leveled instrumentation. Marie says 'These animated observations of tiles and Moorish architecture were made as a thank-you to Kenneth for helping me to shoot on another film in Spain.' Shot in the Alhambra in one day." - Gryphon Film Group

Shift, Ernie Gehr, 16mm, 1972-74, 9 mins
"For Gehr, Shift broke new ground, hence perhaps a pun in its title. The film is his first to employ extensive montage. The actors are all mechanical - a series of cars and trucks filmed from a height of several stories as they perform on a three-lane city street. Gehr isolates one or two vehicles at a time, inverting some shots, so that a car hangs from the asphalt like a bat from a rafter, using angles so severe the traffic often seems to be sliding off the earth, and employing a reverse motion so abrupt that the players frequently exit the scene as though yanked from a stage by the proverbial hook. A sparse score of traffic noises accompanies the spastic ballet mecanique. Not only the action but Gehr's deliberate camera movements are synced to the music of honking horns, screeching brakes, and grinding gears. The eight-minute film is structured as a series of obliquely comic blackout sketches: trucks run over their shadows; cars unexpectedly reverse direction or start up and go nowhere." - J. Hoberman

Visions in Meditation #2: Mesa Verde, Stan Brakhage, 16mm, 1989, 17 mins
"This meditation takes its visual imperatives from the occasion of Mesa Verde, which I came to see finally as a Time rather than any such solidity as Place. 'There is a terror here,' were the first words which came to mind on seeing these ruins; and for two days after, during all my photography, I was haunted by some unknown occurrence which reverberated still in these rocks and rock-structures and environs. I can no longer believe that the Indians abandoned this solid habitation because of drought, lack-of-water, somesuch. (These explanations do not, anyway, account for the fact that all memory of The Place, i.e., where it is, was eradicated from tribal memory, leaving only legend of a Time when such a place existed.) Midst the rhythms, then, of editing, I was compelled to introduce images which corroborate what the rocks said, and what the film strips seemed to say: The abandonment of Mesa Verde was an eventuality (rather than an event), was for All Time thus, and had been intrinsic from the first such human building." - SB

P. Adams Sitney is a historian of film art, a co-founding member of Anthology Film Archives, and Professor of Visual Arts at Princeton University. He is the author of the book Visionary Film, originally published in 1974, which was the first major study on the postwar American avant-garde cinema, and is today considered a classic. Among his other publications are Modernist Montage: The Obscurity of Vision in Cinema and Literature, from 1992, and most recently Eyes Upside Down: Visionary Filmmakers and the Heritage of Emerson. His articles regularly appear in Artforum and other journals.

Tickets - $6, available at door.