Tuesday, March 28, 2023 at 7:30pm
Étienne O'Leary + Alain Montesse

361 Stagg Street, Suite 407, Brooklyn

Day Tripper / Le voyageur diurne, Étienne O’Leary, 1966, 16mm, 9 mins
Chromo Sud, Étienne O’Leary, 1968, 16mm, 21 mins
U.S.S., Alain Montesse, 1970, digital projection, 35 mins

The films of Étienne O'Leary and Alain Montesse collapse many dualities of the 60s that we’ve long taken for granted, bridging the hippie hedonism of the Summer of Love with the revolutionary philosophy of May 68, the small-gauge underground of North America with the more overtly radical filmmaking of France, psychedelic visions with militant critique.

Raised in Montreal, where he learned filmmaking by shooting winter sports with his father’s Beaulieu, O’Leary became entranced by the films of Kenneth Anger, Andy Warhol, and Jonas Mekas before relocating to Paris in the late 60s. There he crafted diary films of his own, filled with superimpositions, flash frames, and other in-camera editing devices, their pictures set to raw audio-tape collages of pop music, avant-garde composers, and noise. For his first completed film, Day Tripper / Le voyageur diurne, O’Leary assembles intimate, monochrome portraits of his friends and lovers—in various states of undress, dancing to records, body-painting, and hanging out—married to a bizarre and frenetic soundtrack of echoing piano, mechanical percussion, and snatches of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Dionne Warwick. In a later interview, his brother Denis, who appears in Day Tripper, likened O’Leary’s filmmaking to “hallucinatory research, like taking an acid trip” and a means to evoke “artificial journeys through the image.” These optical-acoustic collisions reach a discordant apogee in his final film, the darkly colorful Chromo Sud, in which atmospheric street footage and sequences with countercultural fellow-travelers like Michel Auder, Pierre Clémenti, and Jean-Jacques Lebel strobe through an ever-mutating soundscape of spooky harmonium and vocal distortion.

All but unique in French experimental cinema of the time, O’Leary’s work made an indelible impression on his youthful contemporaries. Among them was Alain Montesse, then a student at IDHEC, the central French film school of the era and a hotbed of the protest movement. Montesse had encountered members of the Situationist circle in 1968, and diverged from the orthodox IDHEC Marxists to become part of a more anti-authoritarian camp of anarchists and Warholians. Montesse’s own efforts were filled with dense, autobiographical images à la O’Leary, but structured with narration to form essay films that bear a dialectical critique. One of Montesse’s earliest and most powerful is U.S.S., whose title acronymizes the phrase “Unsanity’s Speculum,” a nod to Surrealist Kurt Seligman’s 1948 occult tome The Mirror of Magic. Here, Montesse conjures new meaning from home movies and Anglophone rock songs by juxtaposing them with a voiceover reading quotes taken from Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle and Montesse’s own thought, yielding a kind of diary-film-as-dérive. “Shot day by day, from January to July, 1970, the film is a series of references,” writes filmmaker Christian Lebrat, “to Debord of course, then to pop music, but also to classical and contemporary music (Vivaldi, Berio, Stravinsky), it refers also to the signs of the consumer society, to community life, to ecology, etc. Rendering sounds, colors (use of color filters), textures, superimpositions, syncopated rhythms, U.S.S. can also be seen as a travel story, a road movie. However, the author stated, ’We do not travel to film, but we film the journeys we make.’ Everyday life first, then cinema second.”

U.S.S. is arguably the work of Situationist cinema least-known to American audiences—it has never, to our knowledge, been presented with English subtitles before this evening—and one with an aesthetic agenda quite distinct from that of René Viénet or indeed Debord himself. Unlike those filmmakers, who détourn slick images from mass media in an attempt to disarm the spectacle, Montesse draws instead from the visceral and messy immediacy of the amateur and the underground, asking if filmmaking like this might be best able to provide political grounding in a hypermediated society. Future fantasies are eschewed in favor of a present tense, of daily life and homemade hallucinations. “It will never be possible to be together later, or elsewhere,” his narrator intones, over images of a young couple and child on a picnic, their faces fluttering as if windborne. “There will never be a greater freedom.”

Tickets - Pay what you can ($10 suggested donation), available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm. No entry 10 minutes after start of show.