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Altered States: Stan VanDerBeek

Stan VanDerBeek's <I>A La Mode</I> screens in LACMA's program.

Courtesy of LACMAStan VanDerBeek's A La Mode screens in LACMA's program.

Experimental filmmaker Stan VanDerBeek's early computer-generated films pop from the screen, beating out patterns of dots and lines, color blocks and strobing lights, with a jumpy handmade urgency that remains fresh more than 30 years later. In Symmetricks, which VanDerBeek made at MIT in 1972 while experimenting with an electronic stylus connected to a computer, we see the artist's hand-drawn spirographic scribbles on a black background, on top of which lies a single black square that showcases another morphing drawing. The anterior patterns flicker and pulse as the more serene images take shape in the middle, metaphorically enacting a meditative practice. Poemfield No. 2 (1966) flashes with fields of electronic color and fragments of text that compose a lyrical rumination on life — literally — and vision. That film is one in a series of eight computer-animated projects VanDerBeek made in collaboration with Kenneth Knowlton, a pioneer at Bell Laboratories who created the programming language "Beflix," in turn used by the pair to craft the films' bit-mapped graphics. LACMA's screening will also include examples of VanDerBeek's stop-motion animations, including Science Friction (1959), a humorous indictment of the specificity of scientific inquiry, with an amazingly contemporary electronic soundtrack. VanDerBeek was among a larger group of American filmmakers interested in what media-arts theorist Gene Youngblood dubbed "expanded cinema," by which he meant artists destined to explode the standard boundaries of narrative filmmaking through movies designed to open up consciousness and be screened in new kinds of viewing spaces, like VanDerBeek's own groovy Movie Drome — a dome for film screenings in Stony Brook, New York. John Musilli's documentary portrait of VanDerBeek rounds out the program, introducing the radically innovative filmmaker and his tools. (LACMA Brown Auditorium; Sun., Jan. 27, 2 p.m. www.lacma.org.)

Courtesy of LACMA

Stan VanDerBeek's A La Mode screens in LACMA's program.
(Click to enlarge)