Migrating Forms: A Fest That Defies Definition


This is the third year for Migrating Forms, the film/video/whatever shindig that once was called the New York Underground Film Festival. There’s no card-carrying Underground anymore, and this isn’t strictly a Film Festival—but whatever it is, the amorphous Forms proves uniquely responsive to new permutations of moving-image consumption.

The 10-day run at Anthology Film Archives begins with Popular Unrest, a talky conceptual crime procedural by Melanie Gilligan, set in a sooner-than-you-think Information Age governed by something called The Spirit, a “human genome project for the social world,” which has gone homicidal. But Popular Unrest’s techno-dystopia is an anomaly in the lineup. More characteristically, Migrating Forms relishes in the glut of available online imagery, with aspects of a found-footage swap meet. Tube Time! is a recurring show-and-tell feature, with scavenged material curated by a lineup of blogger invitees; filmmaker Jim Finn smuggles in musicals and music videos from North Korea; The Art of the Supercut examines the phenomenon of thematically collecting and collage-ing video, often to isolate and study a single pop-culture banality in endless refractions (that program’s host, Rich Juzwiak, assembled I’m Not Here to Make Friends, in which scores of reality-TV participants deliver that title phrase).

Several short works refer explicitly to Internet culture. In Versions, Oliver Laric stitches together a narration of texts about artistic reproduction over images of viral memes: side-by-side comparisons of Disney’s self-cannibalizing animations, Iranian missile-launch photoshops, the animated .gifs of the Zidane headbutt. Michael Bell-Smith has contributed a music video called Art Tape: Live With/Think About, which I took as a melancholy (and pretty funny) joke positing the art world as a fiction constructed from its ’80s pop representations. In nine programs of shorts, such digital essays screen cheek-by-jowl with experimental films of the analog school. The ones that stuck: Jeanne Liotta’s Crosswalk, scuffling together 8mm footage, shot with an eye for faces, from Good Friday processions through the Lower East Side; Cry When it Happens by Laida Lertxundi, a progression of casually evocative, quintessentially Californian images, sequenced slipping toward night.

Seeing Jean-Pierre Gorin’s old SoCal anthropological documentaries at the 2010 Forms was among last year’s really essential viewing, and again the revivals are crucial. Tribute is paid to French author Georges Perec, with screenings of his cinematic adaptations from his own novel, Un homme qui dort (1974), and from Jim Thompson in Alain Corneau’s very great Série noire (1979), set in polluted Paris suburbs under inclement weather, its pinball-careening tone following the over-the-brink central performance by feline-eyed Patrick Dewaere, committed to the point of dashing his skull against the hood of his car. Also on the schedule is a trio of films by Glauber Rocha, the driving force of Brazil’s Cinema Novo, an aesthetic youth revolution—it will be something to see Antônio das Mortes (1969), Rocha’s film-folklore about a hired gun, carpeted with fantastic indigenous music, on something other than an antediluvian VHS. It’s in vain to wish movies like these were still made—but thank God they’re still projected.