The Year in Experimental Cinema

Tracing any sort of best-of for the multitudinous varieties of experimental film and video is a fool's errand; here, instead, are 10 notable works that I wasn't otherwise able to review this year. Consider it a to-do list for your next time-machine excursion.

1. Play Pause[Sadie Benning]
Emerging from a self-imposed exhibition exile of nearly a decade, Benning mounted her two-screen installation Play Pause at Dia this year, concurrent with an exhibit of paintings at Orchard Gallery. Here she dispenses with Pixelvision, opting for an electronic slide show of cartoonlike drawings of urban residents moving through a fantasy Chicagoland—the style is advanced childlike demotic, quavering between dream and waking.

2. Paterson-Lodz[Redmond Entwistle]
A sparse, conceptual undertaking that combines computer-controlled audio with small-gauge 16mm film, Entwistle's installation conveys the stories of two labor uprisings: the 1903 workers' revolution in Lodz, Poland, and the Wobblies-led 1913 silk strike in Paterson, New Jersey. The images show glass castings from the streets of each city; the audio consists of randomly generated bits of documentary interviews and field recordings. Both historically astute and satisfyingly minimalist, Entwistle displays an austere formalism too rarely achieved by political art.

Rehearsals for Early Retirement, part of the Mark Lapore trilogy
photo: Film Society of Lincoln Center
Rehearsals for Early Retirement, part of the Mark Lapore trilogy

3. The Cleveland Trilogy and other recent videos [Kevin Everson]
A wildly prolific filmmaker who investigates the African-American past, class identity, and the practice of artmaking with a visual aesthetic so withholding that Charles Burnett seems florid by comparison, Everson has recently raided obscure archival sources to mine our cultural past for unexpected revelations. The Cleveland Trilogy uses re-enactments and late-'60s news footage to explore the tenure of Carl Stokes, the first black mayor of a major U.S. city; other shorts from this year remix Nixon-age moments from a Virginia TV station—local reports of a pageant queen, a drowned sailor, a female air-traffic controller—to suss out originally unintended profundities and hidden histories.

4. La Trinchera Luminosa del Presidente Gonzalo [Jim Finn]
Though critically lauded and popular at festivals, Finn's previous work—like his East German cosmonaut mock-doc Interkosmos—could have been taken (unfairly) as mere winking countercultural nostalgia, but Trinchera proves that he's engaged in some serious play. A crypto-retro-Marxist faux-documentation of one day in a Peruvian women's prison populated by Shining Path Maoists, Trinchera has the flattened feel and relentless tempo of a long-lost artifact of low-tech propaganda; shot entirely in Spanish and Navajo, complete with large-scale rallies and musical numbers, its compulsive ambition only furthers its enigmas.

5. At Sea [Peter Hutton]
Hutton has said that his penchant for long, silent seascapes comes from hours of carefully scanning the horizon during his tenure in the Merchant Marine. For his longest work to date, Hutton follows the construction, global voyage, and ultimate deconstruction of a modern cargo tanker. Not simply a cinematographic tour de force, it's also a swab's-eye view of the workings of contemporary international capitalism.

6. 50 50 and Message The [Oliver Laric]
That obscure object of Googling desire, German Web-art star Laric burned through the Internet last year with complex pop vids like the meme-worthy 787 Cliparts and the pro-wrestling remix Flying Dropkick; in 2007, he returned to alphabetize Grandmaster Flash's lyrics for Message The and convened 50 YouTubers karaokeing 50 Cent for his addictively rewatchable 50 50.

7. Observando el Cielo [Jeanne Liotta]
A 16mm time-lapse cinematography of starry heavens captured over several years, Liotta's film (enhanced by Peggy Ahwesh's recordings of magnetic fields) works as a pitch-perfect 17 minutes of sublime contemplation—a reminder that the super-slow movements of the night sky provide cinema's most primal form.

8. Whispering Pines [Shana Moulton]
Sick with pastel plastics and cluttered with Enya-era New Agey home décor, Moulton's off-kilter chroma-keyed studio performances succeed at being both soul-cringingly creepy and living-room-rave exuberant, channeling the spirit of 1987 in ways even Shirley MacLaine could never have predicted.

9. In Memoriam Mark LaPore [Phil Solomon]
One of the contemporary masters of expressive 16mm optical printing, Solomon's trilogy of videos in honor of his late friend, filmmaker Mark LaPore, bear an unexpected provenance: They're created entirely within the crime-spree video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Unlike so much geek-generated machinima, however, the In Memoriam videos conjure subtle, powerful visions, transforming gangland SoCal into a desolate, cursed land of overcast skies, shadowy figures, and ominous symbols. Appropriately mournful yet mysteriously evocative, they're a fitting tribute to LaPore's own penetrating and haunting powers.

10. Recent works [Eddo Stern]
For his solo show at Postmasters Gallery this year, Stern combined the latest forms of moving-image wizardry with some of the oldest, melding colorful, animated-gif-inspired motorized shadow puppets with video installations of mask-like talking faces collaged from thousands of fan-made images from massive multiplayer games like Lineage and World of Warcraft—granting the whole shebang a kind of cyberpunk-meets–Southeast Asia strangeness. But his haute-nerdist coup de grâce was Portal, Wormhole, Flythrough, a montage of motion-tunnel sequences, projected inside a life-size Stargate-style interdimensional gateway.

Predictions for 2008
Great fortune lies ahead for Glen Fogel, who premieres his unnerving child-predator performance video at the Kitchen this spring; Jennifer Montgomery, now editing her all-woman remake of John Boorman's Deliverance; and William E. Jones, who will hopefully bring to New York his installation Tearoom, which reworks 1962 police surveillance films of public-sex crackdowns.

 
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