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A Quest of Origins: Larry Gottheim in Person

An image: water with shards of light shimmering in a dance across the screen, the silhouettes of two children frolicking in the water shielding us intermittently from the brilliance. Meanwhile, a story is told in voice-over: Blind Willie Johnson’s widow, Angeline, recounts meeting, wooing and marrying the young musician, recalling, too, his unfortunate death. The layering of these two dissimilar elements at first creates disarray, but in the moments of dark silence that follow, they settle into harmony, one framing the other, and a sense of clarity emerges. Avant-garde filmmaker Larry Gottheim, who began making films in the 1960s, arranges a series of similar collisions and momentary harmonic epiphanies in his acclaimed 1976 feature-length film Mouches Volantes, a dazzling demonstration of the desire to find structures of meaning in the face of apparent chaos. In some sections of the film, Gottheim shows us initially abstract patterns that gradually materialize as objects, or carefully framed shots that are then manipulated via shifts of focus or adjustments to the lens aperture. He also plays with the order of things, repeating Angeline Johnson’s story several times, while structuring the visual sequences in a progression forward, and a repetition backward. Our job as viewers is to find order, to make meaning, and it’s a testament to Gottheim’s powerful skills that in fact we do not only do this but become keenly aware of our own process of meaning-making. Gottheim, whose work will screen this week both at Filmforum and REDCAT, is also the maker of more than a dozen other experimental films, including the quietly stunning silent film Blues (1969), which consists of a single shot of a bowl of milk with blueberries. Gottheim will attend both screenings. (Los Angeles Filmforum at the Egyptian Theatre: Sun., April 29, 7 p.m. www.lafilmforum.org. REDCAT: Mon., April 30, 8 p.m. www.redcat.org)


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