A good programmer is a kind of matchmaker; the idea is to get the films talking to each other. Anchored by two found-footage classics, Bruce Conner’s 1958 A Movie by Bruce Conner and Morgan Fisher’s 1984 Standard Gauge, Mark McElhatten’s elegantly curated show—part of his “Walking Picture Palace” series (see page 60)—offers Conner’s commercial precursor, a late-’40s Castle Films newsreel compilation; Fisher’s first film in nearly 20 years, ( ); and a “lost,” similarly titled film from the mid ’60s, —- ———-, by Thom Andersen and Malcolm Brodwick, that Fisher considers an inspiration.
At once conceptual and fetishistic in the manner of the John Waters “redirection jobs” currently at the New Museum, ( ) is composed entirely of insert shots from a hundred movies. The shots are presented chronologically, but no consecutive shots are from the same film—everything remains an insert among inserts. Most are close-ups, mainly of hands reaching, dealing, pushing, placing, leafing, pouring, writing, and clutching. There are almost no faces but plenty of letters to read, all of which make you think about how “real” movies are made.
While ( ), also included in the current Whitney Biennial, is timeless, —- ———- is a period piece that combines elements of ’60s structuralism with ’60s scene-making. Using a calculated system, the filmmakers flash stroboscopic images of L.A.’s Sunset Strip in full flower with mainly disconnected shards of pop music. If McElhatten’s connections were extended, —- ———- would make an excellent introduction to Andersen’s upcoming found-footage essay, Los Angeles Plays Itself; as it is, he’s programmed the 1974 horror cheapster Messiah of Evil—mildly allegorical and very pink—to follow “The Tranquility of Influence,” in part because it figures in Fisher’s Standard Gauge.