Tuesday, October 10, 2017 at 7:30pm
A Ghost Town in Reverse: Films by Steve Polta

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Looking back at the 1990s renaissance of American experimental cinema, it’s clear that one of the most aesthetically advanced scenes emerged in the Bay Area, during that region’s final days of true affordability. Many of the Northern California filmmakers then active shared a renewed interest in the material nature of celluloid and the particular mechanisms of camerawork, exploring the medium’s fundamental character at the moment of film’s alleged death, but with a muted lyricism quite unlike either the grand theoretical projects or underground transgressions of earlier generations. This sensibility is one that can be found in the work of a wide range of artists, from the lightly-touched found-footage enigmas of Brian Frye, to the reflexive reveries of Luis Recoder and the optical toying of Kerry Laitala, not to mention the meticulously observational cinema of Nathaniel Dorsky. “Long-deferred aesthetic questions began to reemerge and demand answers,” Frye recalls in “The New Science of Cinema,” his 2003 essay on the period, “questions about film, what it looks like, how it works.”

Erstwhile taxi driver and current director of stalwart venue San Francisco Cinematheque, Steve Polta began making and showing films in the Bay Area while a student of Ernie Gehr. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Polta has publicly exhibited his prints only rarely over the years, preferring to keep them out of distribution. More recently, however, Polta has assembled a roughly hour-long selection of ten individual pieces, mostly Super-8, that he has screened internationally as a single program. By shooting urban landscapes and interiors at low exposures, and generating moments of diffraction, Polta creates compositions of light and color that slowly mutate to generate fields of abstract shapes, occasionally interrupted by a flash of recognizable photographic recording. Visually understated in the extreme, Polta’s films nonetheless encourage minimalist rhapsodies on the part of the dedicated viewer. In Departure, Frye notes, “the elements of a profoundly defocused lens distort a transit tunnel into a portal between worlds, traversed by color-spiked forms,” while Picture Window “verges on pure black, the barest hint of an image causing the screen to reverberate between a window and a surface plane. It’s the texture of the image that constitutes the film, the essence of a film.”

Frye further notes that Polta’s individual films take the form of “a single, uninterrupted image,” and one could say the same of this program as a whole. Bereft of titles or clear interruptions between works, presented either silent or set to subdued soundtracks, Polta’s compilation becomes its own kind of continuous low-tech light show, investigating the expressive possibilities of lensing while simultaneously reveling in the grain and rhythms of small-gauge formats.

Red Sketch (1997c), Steve Polta, 1997, Super-8, 6 mins
interval Oakland 99, 2000, Super-8, 3 mins
Departure (1997c), 1997, Super-8, 7 mins
Picture Window (1996a), 1996, Super-8, 10 mins
Minnesota Landscape, 1997, 16mm, 10 mins
Estuary #1, 1998, Super-8, 10 mins
The Berries, 2000, Super-8, 3 mins
Summer Rain for LMC, Side A, 2007/2011, Super-8, 3 mins
Summer Rain for LMC, Side B, 2007/2011, Super-8, 3 mins
A House Full of Dust, 2007, Super-8, 10 mins

Followed by a conversation with Polta.

Tickets - $8, available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.