AUSTIN—“What was exciting was some little event that happened in the left-hand corner,” explained Jean-Pierre Gorin at the Cinematexas International Short Film Festival last week. A former Godard collaborator and later San Diego-bound étranger, Gorin was referring to the paintings of film critic Manny Farber, ostensible topic of his rambling, self-implosive lecture. But he might as well have been speaking of Cinematexas itself, an oasis of cinematic radicalism, lodged deep in Bush country, which has nevertheless staked claim as one of North America’s most respected experimental festivals. This year’s edition included a tribute to cinematographer Babette Mangolte, a performance by Dutch band the Ex, showcases devoted to Mexico, Iran, and the Netherlands, and a new section on digital gaming (which I participated in as a speaker).
Gorin’s notion of riot in the margins carried through with particular urgency in the American fare: whether the public-access-hued ventriloquism of Ben Coonley’s “Trick Pony Cycle,” Torsten Burns’s retro-psychic out-of-body experience Learning Stalls, or Naomi Uman’s cross-border diptych Leche/Mala Leche, the best domestic offerings rejected production-valued cinema and comforting humanism in favor of the knowingly ruthless misuse of audiovisual technologies, drawing from the amateur, the ephemeral, and the accidental. No artist went further in this regard than James Fotopoulos, who premiered one of his latest features. A paranoid narrative about a yuppie couple’s physical and mental mutation, The Nest plunges so deeply into the oily miasma of its outdated color 16mm stock, cut to the arrhythmic melodies of Fotopoulos’s brutal handiwork, that his genetic-terrorist creepshow makes Mulholland Drive—its nearest conceivable relative—feel like a glossy Disney cartoon by comparison.
Parched cineastes longing for more familiar movielike tastes were granted succor by a visit from the boyish maestro of Tinseltown inversion, Todd Haynes, who appeared with early short films, including 1985’s rarely screened Assassins: A Film Concerning Rimbaud. A surprising prelude to Velvet Goldmine, Haynes’s meticulously glam-rocked joint of joyous juvenilia confirmed theses likewise apropos to the event as a whole: (1) the past is a dialectical gateway to the future and (2) love is in the details.