When she died in 2009, filmmaker Chick Strand — co-founder of the San Francisco underground distributor Canyon Cinema, who broke new ground with her own films in the '70s and '80s by merging avant-garde style and techniques with ethnographic concerns — left behind a number of never-before-seen works, in various states of completion. The first of these "new" Chick Strand films to see the light of day is Señora con Flores/Woman With Flowers, which will have its world premiere Monday as the centerpiece of a program of newly restored Strand shorts.
The evening, co-presented by L.A. Filmforum, both kicks off REDCAT's fall film programming and unofficially launches "Alternative Projections," Filmforum's tribute to Southern California experimental filmmaking tied to the massive Pacific Standard Time survey of local postwar art.
Monday's screening is, truly, a world premiere — the print was still being subtitled late last week, so I was shown a Quicktime file in order to write this preview. But even as seen in low-res form on a computer monitor, Señora con Flores is clearly a vividly colorful slice of vintage Strand. Shot in Mexico in the '80s (on one of the many trips Strand took there with her husband, painter Neon Park), and edited in 1995, it's a portrait of the titular woman, a flower seller who testifies in Spanish to constant abuse at the hands of her unfaithful, alcoholic husband. Like many of Strand's films, Señora is shot primarily in close-up, with the lens fully zoomed in, rendering the image shaky and unstable, the actual subject coming into focus or dissolving into a field of color as it moves.
Ever the impressionist, Strand translated the woman's voice accurately, but jumbled the order of the subtitles so that what we're reading doesn't always match what we're hearing. As we watch the woman play with her children on what seems to be an idyllic day by a river (more patented Strand: Dancing reflections on water are essentially a character), her anguished voice becomes a kind of musical backdrop to the heartbreakingly dramatic statements on screen ("I'm in something like hell"). It's the story of a real woman's life, told in her own words, but given a near-surrealistic quality by Strand's abstraction.
Monday's show includes eight additional films, tracing the multiple corners of Strand's filmography, from sensual, music-based shorts (including Strand's UCLA student film Angel Blue Sweet Wings, the experiment in solarization Waterfall and the tastefully erotic Fever Dream), to the found-footage oddity Cartoon La Mousse, which shows how even when plumbing cartoons for her imagery, Strand manages to turn light dancing on water into a running motif.
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Mosori Monika tells the story of the colonization of a Venezuelan village from the point of view of one condescending Spanish nun ("We civilize them, we taught them everything, how to live a human life"), and the somewhat more nuanced version offered by one of the colonized women. It's Señora's most direct precursor on the program, a "documentary" whose experimental methods allow it to visualize the ephemeral and unnameable feelings that round out an experience.