Tuesday, January 19, 2016 at 7:30pm
Three Notes by Saul Levine
155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn
New Left Note, Saul Levine, 1968-82, 16mm blowup from 8mm, 28 min
Note to Pati, Saul Levine, 1969, 16mm blowup from 8mm, 7 min
Notes of an Early Fall, Saul Levine, 1976, Super 8, 33 min
For decades based in Boston, where he has taught generations of artists at the publicly-funded Massachusetts College of Art and organized the stalwart screening venue MassArt Film Society, Saul Levine has built up a substantial body of work since the 1960s, providing the most important link between the New Left and the New American Cinema. These two worlds, of on-the-ground struggle and visual experiment, collide with explosive possibility in Levine’s filmmaking, which not only documents key political episodes of his time, but also plumbs the emotional depths of a life led in continued resistance to the standing social order, charting its pleasures and its perils.
Tonight, Light Industry presents an evening with Levine focusing on three early examples from his ongoing “Notes” series. Considering Levine’s cycle, the scholar P. Adams Sitney argues that “the deceptively modest term identifies the primary conceit of these films—that they are epistolary gestures, made to convey the news of what is happening in the filmmaker’s life—while suggesting that they are also unitary points in an extended melody.”
Begun when Levine was the editor of New Left Notes, the national newsletter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), New Left Note is an intricately braided silent montage of images from the era: anti-war protests, women’s liberation marches, and the 1970 “Free Bobby Seale” demonstrations in New Haven, Levine’s hometown. Writing of his work, the filmmaker Marjorie Keller (who also appears in the film) remarked that New Left Note “represents a synthesis of ideas that Levine sought to inject into a much-divided movement.” In moments captured through stuttering frames, sometimes pointedly out of focus, the image impeded by dust and visible tape-spices, the film manifests a powerful vision of alternative media—messy, chaotic, fractured, vital—in contradistinction to the centralized power of the State and corporate broadcasting, repeatedly signaled by the blurry visage of Nixon speaking on television.
In Note to Pati and Notes of an Early Fall, Levine embraces the content of the home movie, altered through his characteristic methods of staccato editing. “I think that the smaller gauge formats are actually in certain ways more advanced socially,” Levine has said, “because they give people more opportunity of expression.” These works draw our attention toward a familiar, domestic medium and ask what the political valence of a home movie, as self-made culture, might be, and how such pictures reflect back to us an image of ourselves that a dominant cinema otherwise elides. Note to Pati is impressionistically described by Levine as a “Note on snowstorms in February-March ‘69. The restoration of the landscape. Begun to show friends on west coast violent beauty of this period. Childhood memories, snowball fights, sleddings, etc., and how I felt about Medford where I live kept entering into the film. The principal birds in the film are the blue jay and the crow, both beautiful, smart and ruthless." Here Levine deploys the dirty-white background of chilly expanses to impressive compositional effect. Film historian David Curtis went so far as to observe that the “red hats of the children in the snow have the intense luminosity of a Renoir.”
Made largely in Binghamton, New York in 1976, Notes of an Early Fall is Levine’s first film on Super-8 sound, shot just as he was about to be dismissed from his teaching job at SUNY Binghamton, in part due to his political activities. The title, as elsewhere in Levine’s filmography, bears multiple meanings, referring, as Sitney puts it, “to the season in which he returns to his family home with his new camera to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, as well as to the aesthetic fall from the grace of pure vision into the worldly cacophony of synchronous sound (in a hyperbole of Brakhage’s polemics) and the fall from a prestigious position in what was at the time the strongest academic program in avant-garde filmmaking in America.” The visual rhythms of his earlier films are replaced instead by longer shots maintaining internal repetitions: a warped blues record plays as its phonograph needle skips grooves at every turn, bears at a zoo pace slowly around their cramped cage in a despondent loop. Subtly recursive, it’s a film about momentum stalled, about the frustrations of not moving forward, set, nevertheless, on the eve of a new year.
Followed by a conversation with Levine.
Tickets - $8, available at door.
Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.