Vision Quest

Get your avant-garde fix with plenty of experimental cinema this season

Bucking the gallery trend for picking kids fresh from MFA programs, the moving-image portion of this spring's Whitney Biennial (Whitney Museum of Art, 945 Madison Avenue, 800-WHITNEY) focuses more on established names rather than promoting lesser-knowns, perhaps on the logic that even the most celebrated avant-garde filmmakers remain relative outsiders to the art world. So while the Biennial is usually the place to catch a glimpse of hot young artists, its 2006 film and video program will be showcasing the other end of the age spectrum: The slate includes more than a few avant-garde moviemakers who were already stirring things up during the Johnson administration. Along with Kenneth Anger's magical classics Invocation of My Demon Brother and Lucifer Rising (April 22), the museum screens one of his newest works, the video Mouse Heaven (May 13), a fantastically perverse look at Mickey through the artifacts of one overweeningly accomplished collector of Disneyana. Even rarer is a reading by poet Ira Cohen, who will show his 20-minute psychedelic "maximalist" thrift-store costumer The Invasion of the Thunderbolt Pagoda (March 17, May 12), an all-but-lost lysergic "alchemical journey" starring Tony Conrad and Angus Maclise that promises a glimpse of "Heavenly Blue Mylar Pavilions." Michael Snow speeds up his own 1968 pad-trip Wavelength with a DVD re-do, WVLNT (Wavelength for Those Who Don't Have the Time. Originally 45 Minutes, Now 15!) (March 18, April 23), which, as its name suggests, compacts his 1968 film by superimposing its beginning, middle, and end. Out of the younger filmmakers on view—the under-60 set—Jennifer Reeves's masterful post–9-11 psychodrama The Time We Killed (March 25, May 7) screens again for those who missed its run last fall. Short works by Martha Colburn, Joe Gibbons, Lewis Klahr, and others unspool at the Whitney's film and video gallery throughout the season; ongoing video installations by Ryan Trecartin and Cameron Jamie will reward the sit-through viewer.

Of course, aficionados of experimental cinema in New York don't have to make do with the Biennial to get their visionary fix: Institutions like Anthology (32 Second Avenue, 212-864-1760) and MOMA (11 West 53rd Street, 212-708-9400) serve it up year-round. Spring highlights at Anthology include an all-April tribute to one-man film lab BB Optics, run by filmmaker Bill Brand; the series includes films restored or otherwise tweaked by Brand, ranging from works by Saul Levine, Amy Taubin, and Bradley Eros to a collection of Super 8 films by Nixon's White House staff, confiscated by the FBI in 1973. Anthology also hosts a program of new video art from Shanghai and Beijing (May 19–21). Notable Anthology one-off shows include new work by auto-portraitist identity-shifter Shannon Plumb (April 1) and a selection of films by and featuring Buster Keatonesque performer Stuart Sherman (April 2). Meanwhile, MOMA offers an expansive memorial tribute to video art pioneer Nam June Paik (May 1–22), and the world premiere of Marcel Dzama's short The Lotus Eaters (April 22). Gaining white cube notoriety for his spooky-twee ink drawings, Dzama makes films in the neo-antique vein of fellow Winnipegger Guy Maddin; also screening is Dzama's Spike Jonze collaboration Sad Ghost. The tail end of May brings MOMA's massive Tommorrowland (May 25–August 31), a series devoted to the students and faculty of CalArts' film and video program, whose work often evinces a scrappy materialism and soulful sense of landscape, including redoubtable experimentalists Deborah Stratman, Travis Wilkerson, and Naomi Uman, as well as a slew of enticing lesser-knowns.

Beyond the institutions, spring brings a number of promising gallery shows and micro-cinematic screenings displaying the work of a younger generation. Williamsburg's Ocularis (70 North 6th Street, Brooklyn, 718-388-8713) programs a one-woman show (March 20) by Texas hotshot Eileen Maxson, a transmedia Cindy Sherman for the MySpace generation; Foxy Production (617 West 27th Street, 212-239-2758) premieres new videos by Michael Bell-Smith that play with '80s video games and '90s pop (April 27–May 27); and John Connolly Presents (625 West 27th Street, 212-337-9563) installs a neo-psychedelic work by former Forcefield clanner Ara Peterson (April 1–May 6). Art space Participant Inc (95 Rivington, 212-254-4334) mounts "Xanadu" (April 9–May 14), a four-channel installation by Robert Boyd, remixing apocalyptic footage of the Mansons, Heaven's Gate, and other bits of suicide, homicide, and genocide. Sounds like something Hollywood Babylon author Kenneth Anger might be heading downtown to check out when he's in New York.

Make the choice to check out Bill Brand's 1979 
Split Decision
photo: Anthology Film Archives
Make the choice to check out Bill Brand's 1979 Split Decision


See also:
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  • Don't Call It Noise Music
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  • To Serve and Protect: A Freestyle Series Rumbles On
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  • Wonder Women
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    by R.C. Baker

  • A Mechanized Culture and its Equally Mechanical Population Meet
    by Carla Blumenkranz

  • Tweaking Their Legacies: Composers Reinvent Themselves
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  • Dancing in Your Sleep: Label Microcosm Calms the Nerves
    by Tricia Romano

  • Postmodern Pioneer: The Next Generation
    Bokaer gets physical, digital, and naked
    by Elizabeth Zimmer
  • A selective preview compiled and written by Leo Goldsmith, Pete L'Official, Jaime Mastromonica, Matt Singer, and Drew Tillman.

    Don't Come Knocking
    March 17

    Wim Wenders's latest Teutonic reading of the American West re-teams him with writer-star Sam Shepard for the first time since their 1984 masterpiece, Paris, Texas. Touting a soundtrack featuring guitarist Marc Ribot (filling in for Ry Cooder), Don't Come Knocking follows a Broken Flowers premise that fits snugly with Wenders's theme of lusty men on the road to ruin (and back).

    Find Me Guilty
    March 17

    Vin Diesel (now with 50 percent more hair!) stars in this true story of a gangster who refuses to turn state's evidence and acts as his own attorney at trial. The film is directed by the prodigiously litigious Sidney Lumet; he's made four films and one television series about lawyers and the law since 1990.

    Thank You for Smoking
    March 17

    Jason Reitman (son of Ivan) makes his feature debut with a funny if glib satire of the big tobacco lobby. A stellar cast (Aaron Eckhart, Robert Duvall, William H. Macy, Maria Bello, and more) should make this adaptation of Christopher Buckley's novel worth a look.

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