Veteran filmmakers dominate the NYFF’s avant-garde film sidebar, now in its second year. The two most tantalizing programs (neither of them available for review) are a retrospective of six films from the ’60s by Canadian filmmaker Arthur Lipsett (who, had he not been so reclusive, might have become an underground legend solely for refusing Stanley Kubrick’s offer to hire him to make the trailer for Dr. Strangelove) and a new Ken Jacobs ”nervous system” film performance, Ontic Antics Starring Laurel and Hardy, which probes the consummate odd-couple short, Berthmark. The Jacobs piece is paired with One by Fred Worden, whose films have always combined a rigorously conceptual structure with ephemeral images.
The two group programs are very much mixed bags, although unlike last year, there are no real clunkers. In Program I, the beauties are Bruce Baillie’s sensuous Julio en Chapala, edited from footage shot in Mexico in 1967 (the year he made his memorable portrait film Valentin de la Sierras), and Nathaniel Dorsky’s Variations, the radiant sequel to Triste, which was one of the highlights of last year’s festival. If ever a film looked as if it were lit up from within, Variations is it. On the darker side are two found-footage films, Martin Arnold’s Alone: Life Wastes Andy Hardy and Deitmar Brehm’s Korridor, which suggests a meeting of Jack Smith and Peggy Ahwesh.
Ahwesh’s Nocturne, starring the multitalented Anne Kugler, dominates the overload in Program 2. The director’s references range from Mario Bava to Kathy Acker and the Marquis de Sade, but the visceral, nightmarish effect is all her own.