2013 was the year when production studios ceased releasing 35mm movie prints, Fuji announced the end of its motion picture product line, and Spielberg and Lucas predicted an imminent ‘implosion’ of the film industry. These heartbreaking facts, nevertheless, feel far removed from the reality of experimental filmmakers, who continue to invent ways to use their beloved analog material. As ‘obsolete’ machines make their way to the dumpsters and, hence, into eager hands; as dedicated groups organize conferences and workshops to perpetuate and enrich knowledge of chemical processes; and as filmmakers self-mobilize into collectives and cooperative labs; perhaps, this is the time when things get truly exciting for cinema. Listed below are just a handful of the incredible and historic celluloid projections that took place in Boston this year.
– The Boston Viewfinder
Bad Blood: February 24 at Harvard Film Archive, 35mm
The screening of this incredibly exhilarating film was made even more powerful by the crisp 35mm print and the presence of the director, Leos Carax. A playful thriller and a story of unrequited love, the film stars Juliette Binoche and the freakishly acrobatic Denis Lavant. (Just watch the scene where he runs down a Paris street to Bowie’s “Modern Love”.) Leos Carax has described his most recent film, Holy Motors, as a lamentation of the increasing digitization of our society.
DIY Dystopia: March 14 at Balagan, 16mm
This screening was dedicated to the link between handmade films (where emulsion is scratched, lifted, bleached, left to decay, or otherwise disfigured) and a fascination many filmmakers hold for the destruction of the natural world. Perhaps, the interest stems from feelings of guilt about caustic film development processes? (For those wondering, there are earth-friendly development processes in existence: for example, using instant coffee and citrus juice!)
Jacques Rivette’s Le Pont du Nord: August 9-18 at Harvard Film Archive, 35mm
A curious film that follows two heroines around a limbolike ‘80s Paris as they solve a surreal mystery. This HFA screening was a US premiere for this 1981 film – luckily for us, on 35mm. Rivette’s guerilla filmmaking methods, non sequitur humor and lightness of touch make you want to take a Bolex to the streets of Boston as soon as possible.
Echo Systems: September 22 at Balagan, 16mm
This truly magical merging of 16mm film projection and live sound took place in the middle of a ghostly Financial District, in the park at Post Office Square. Local filmmakers Robert Todd and Douglas Urbank showed their semi-abstract 16mm creations to improvised accompaniment by Ernst Karel and Jorrit Dijkstra.
La Cicatrice intérieure: October 1 at Balagan, 35mm
Getting this wild 1972 film from the Cinémathèque Française was a Herculean effort, but well worth it. Seeing and hearing Nico’s collaboration with her then-lover, avant-garde filmmaker Philippe Garrel, on the big Brattle screen was certainly superior to watching it on YouTube.
The Radical Documentaries of Shinsuke Ogawa: October 4 – November 10 at the HFA, 16mm
One of the most singular experiments in documentary filmmaking, the Ogawa Productions collective in ‘60s and ‘70s Japan, was an attempt to truly live the subject of one’s films. Ogawa and his team spent years living with and filming activists fighting the construction of the Narita Airport; following this, they relocated to a rice farm for over ten years in order to produce a truthful portrait of rural food production.
The Films of Tomonari Nishikawa: October 16 at MassArt Film Society, 16mm
Currently a professor at Binghamton University, Tomonari Nishikawa playfully deconstructs cinematic time. One of his films, Market Street, was made by sequencing unconnected still images that resemble each other in b&w silhouette. The entire process took place in-camera, meaning, Nishikawa relied on visual memory — not editing tools — to create totally seamless and exciting movement.
differently, Molussia: November 14-17 at Harvard Film Archive, 16mm
Nicolas Rey’s 2012 film is unconventional, to say the least: 1) it is based on a German book that Rey couldn’t read, 2) it consists of 9 film reels whose order is randomly decided before each screening, 3) it was filmed on decades-old, expired film stock that looks like it was shot on the moon, 4) it uses wind-powered cameras, which spin the image and change exposure based on the weather. Rey is a founding member of an artist-run film lab in Paris, L’Abominable, and certainly one of the most intriguing voices in experimental film today. Watch the anti-trailer here.
Sans soleil: December 7 at Harvard Film Archive, 16mm
This 1983 film by Chris Marker is an infinitely poetic travelogue essay that meditates on the nature on memory, narrated by a disembodied voice over mercurial snapshots from Japan, Iceland, Guinea-Bassau and Cape Verde. This film could probably be watched a hundred times with new insight gained with each viewing.
The Wicker Man Resurrected: December 21 at Harvard Film Archive, 35mm
If stored improperly, film can get ‘vinegar syndrome’ – an incurable, contagious disease that, eventually, makes film prints unprojectable. Such prints are quarantined to the ‘vinegar vault’, where this rare cut of the horror classic was unexpectedly found. It was tracked down by a British distributor who, unfortunately, chose to re-release the film only digitally. Kudos to the HFA for (briefly?) rescuing The Wicker Man from the vinegar vault for a historic 35mm screening.