Now in his 70s, Robert Nelson began making experimental films in 1962, producing a body of conceptual works that contributed to the larger structural film movement of the American avant-garde by questioning such fundamental properties of filmmaking as duration and perception. Nelson always added in a cheeky, offbeat humor, and his films resemble the early European avant-garde shorts of the 1920s in their enjoyment of visual and verbal puns and outright silliness. In Bleu Shut, a 33-minute film from 1970 made in collaboration with William Wiley, Nelson stages an odd game show in which a group of offscreen contestants tries to guess the name of a boat seen onscreen, choosing from a list of invariably ridiculous appellations in 60-second segments. If the group guesses quickly, the remaining time is given over to seemingly random images — people sticking out their tongues, a couple having sex, a man in a mirrored box. Although the film's structure is clearly delineated in the first few minutes, the puzzle offered by this eclectic collage of material remains intriguing, sometimes brilliant and frequently hilarious. The Off-Handed Jape, made in 1967 (also with Wiley), presents two characters demonstrating a range of expressions in response to the prompts of two other offscreen characters. Again, it's comical, but also a sly semiotic reflection on the complexities of bodily communication. REDCAT and Filmforum will each present four films by Nelson, concluding a four-part retrospective with rare appearances by Nelson on both evenings.
(Filmforum at the Egyptian; Sun., Jan. 20, 7 p.m. www.lafilmforum.org. REDCAT; Mon., Jan. 21, 8 p.m. www.redcat.org.)