Today is Columbus Day; have been going to movies nonstop. Went to two of the omnibus progarms at "Views from the Avant-Garde"... and just feel a little rundown today. The only non-festival movie i saw last week was "Sweet Land" which was one of those curiosities. I thought that it was visually extraordinary, one of the best looking movies i've seen this year, and the acting was fine... but something was off. And i can't quite explain what. If i wree to hazard a guess: the adaptation of the short story emphasizes the plot points of the story in a way which does not actually illuminate the themes. The person who directed the film is a dierctor of commercials, and there is a professional sheen to the movie, but it's skewed. It's like a beautiful husk, but the center is missing, and that center is the mysterious quality that makes a cohesive work of art.
Of the two avant-garde programs i saw, the one on Sunday ("Above and Below") was by far the more cohesive. There was a "theme" (cityscapes, or what used to be called "city symphonies") and each of the films illuminated the general theme. Some of the films were a little far afield (Robert Fenz's "Crossings" and Bruce Conner's "His Eye is on the Sparrow") but wound up creating a counterpoint that proved very satisfying.
The one on Saturday ("The Great Divide") seemed to involve the use of "found" texts in juxtaposition to a collage of images. But the real surprise (and the big news) was that in the final short of the program, "Liberte et patrie" by Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Mielville, amidst the plethora of clips and stills from "classic" cinema, there was a brief segment from Maya Deren's "Meshes of the Afternoon"! This is (unless i am mistaken) the first time that Godard has ever recognized anything from the American avant-garde cinema! (Godard and Mielville also include a shot from Kirsanoff... another first, because the avant-garde films from the 1920s - Kirsanoff, Man Ray, Picabia, et al - were always anathema to Godard.)
I have to say that Ken Jacobs's "Pushcarts of Eternity Street" and Bruce Conner's "His Eye is on the Sparrow" were quite exquisite: using methods that they had pioneered (the "nervous system" flickering for Ken Jacobs, the audio-visual collage methods of Bruce Conner), they created short little pieces which were perfect encapsulations.
These programs were fine, but a little deflating. The excitement which used to be part of going to an avant-garde program is missing. In many cases, it's like going to a reunion, and seeing everyone growing old. It's nostalgic, and rather sad.
But on Friday, finally, the festival kicked into some sort of gear: David Lynch's "Inland Empire" was a total mess.... often incoherent, sometimes insistently obscure, far too long, simply indulgent.... and utterly brilliant. There are times when the whole thing seems to have come directly from Lynch's unconscious, it's that direct in terms of the effect.
North Korea has claimed it's done some nuclear testing. A scary time in world affairs, and the Bush administration is totally unable to find a proper response, because the resources of this country are being decimated in Iraq. This is, indeed, a sad time for the country.
But if the country survives, it might prove to be an exciting time for the arts. The "age of anxiety" after the nuclear blasts that ended World War II prompted a real flowering for American art, because there was a concentration of dissent.
Back to movies: if you count the fact that i went to the two press screenings ("Saul Levine: Notes from the Underground" and "Paolo Gioli") and that the Kenneth Anger program and most of the Ernie Gehr program were things i'd seen before, that means that this year i did see a good portion of the "Views from the Avant-Garde"... and i have to say that i think that this year's "Scanners" was a little more exciting. Well, "Scanners" included Bill Jones's "V.O." which was one of the best pieces of the year. I am sorry that i missed seeing Nathaniel Dorsky's "Song and Solitude", Luther Price's "Turbulant Blue" and Jennifer Reeves's "Light Mood 1". That's the problem: i wish some of these things would show up at another time....