The Most Typical Avant-Garde: Minor Cinemas in Los Angeles
With its impish title (pace Victor Shklovsky) and encyclopedic breadth, David James recently published The Most Typical Avant-Garde: History and Geography of Minor Cinemas in Los Angeles canonizes our city as a breeding ground for the production and exhibition of independent and underground moviemaking, dating from well before such terms existed through to the present day. No stone is left unturned in James survey: There are films made surreptitiously inside the studio system and those produced at a distant remove, musicals and melodramas, high-art animations and lowbrow titillations and just about everything in between. Its an epic atlas to which no single film series could conceivably do justice hence the combined efforts of the UCLA Film and Television Archive and Los Angeles Filmforum, which from November 6 until the end of the year will present a series of eight film programs inspired by James book, with the author on hand to introduce each screening. The result is a veritable A-to-Z of the Los Angeles avant-garde Thom Andersen, Maya Deren, Jules Engel, Pat ONeill, Slavko Vorkapich and, yes, even George Lucas (whose student-film version of THX-1138 screens on November 4). Among the highlights: Dudley Murphys 1920 mindfuck, Soul of the Cypress, in which the tragic romance between a young musician and a tree spirit abruptly gives way to a primitive porno film; Joseph von Sternbergs feature-length The Salvation Hunters (1925), the story of two children of the mud clawing their way toward capitalist Americas promise of sunshine; David Lebruns Tanka (1976), an eye-popping journey through the Tibetan Book of the Dead as represented by 16th- to 19th-century scroll paintings; and Gary Beydlers Pasadena Freeway Stills (1974), which takes a sledgehammer to our perception of moving images. Theres even a three-minute ditty called Filmforum Film (1980), documenting the origins of the very organization (the citys oldest continuous presenter of avant-garde cinema) that co-sponsors this historic series. As the final images leave the screen, on the soundtrack one hears a Filmforum audience member delivering these apt parting words: Beautiful. Id like to see a lot more of that.
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