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Talk: Orphans 9 (Amsterdam 2014)

I recently had the very great pleasure of speaking at the 9th Orphan Film Symposium, held at the marvelous EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam, and organized by the estimable Dan Streible (NYU). I can’t recommend Orphans highly enough: the ‘Orphanistas’ are a lively, friendly, and very dedicated bunch of film preservationists, restorers, archivists, scholars and artists. I spent so much time watching stunning old films (many with live musical accompaniment) in the lush, darkened confines of EYE’s Cinema #1 that I had grave difficulty dealing with my jetlag. (Tellingly, when I returned home to Montreal, I just snapped back into local time – as if I’d never left Canada.)

Two of the many highlights: First, the presentation by Elżbieta Wysocka (Filmoteka Narodowa) on the extraordinary direct animation work of Polish artist Julian Antonisz (1941-1987). Most startling of all was his collection of self-invented, homemade animation machines, especially the ’24-frame chamfering pantograph animograph’. The user draws two frames using the two (attached) drawing devices, and the machine magically creates the intervening 22 frames, so the animation ‘morphs’ smoothly from one to the other. Watching his films, you can often see how the action pulsates and loops, second by second, which I take to be an effect of his ‘pantograph animograph’. A stark reminder that automated ‘tweening’ has been around a lot longer than, say, Adobe’s Flash software.

The second highlight was watching Gustave Giró’s Perros en Paracaidas [Dogs Parachute in Antarctica], a silent 16mm film from 1963. Presented by Andrés Levinson (Museo del Cine, Buenos Aires), I would describe this as a design film: a limited, high-contrast palette of white, blue (sky), and red (plane); bold, stark lettering on the plane’s fuselage, and a repeated motif of sled-dogs and men with white semicircular parachutes, falling silently against a deep blue sky. In one brief moment of jaw-dropping serendipity, the fleeting white dots marking the stock number of one of the film’s reels coincide with the ‘white dots’ of the parachutes in flight. It might well be the most beautiful few frames of film I’ve ever seen (says the graphic designer).

OrphansMattMy own talk was well received, and I made some fantastic contacts in my quest to find more examples of film leaders that I can document, scan, and then use as ‘digital found footage’ for my art practice. A sidenote: my work falls under the rubric of what we call in Canada ‘research-creation‘, a form of critical inquiry that combines ‘traditional’ research with creative mediamaking. The Lost Leaders project is perhaps the first instance of R-C in my brief career that has unfolded in a resolutely ‘backwards’ manner: I began with the very conscious goal of making work in an open-ended fashion and, only now, three years down the line, am I applying myself to a semi-systematic process of library and archival research. Interesting, then, that although I wanted to provide the Orphans audience with a loosely chronological accounting of the project to date, my talk (and associated slides) kept wanting to rewrite themselves as research followed by creation. Hmm. Anyway, everything worked out just fine, and I’m now very excited to throw myself into a sustained period of research and (more) creation, while avoiding the reductive impulse to insist on one narrowly ‘informing’ the other.

Next up will be an entry on this site dedicated to reporting on my recent experiments with stained glass.

Finally, here’s a link to the Korsakow ‘sketch film’ I played during the break immediately before my talk, and a snapshot of my slides from the talk itself:


Photo credits: The featured image is one of my Lost Leaders photomontages, using layered 35mm film leader. It’s a riff on the name of the symposium, ie Orphans 9 (or O9). The photo of my talk is by Dan Streible (CC licence).