And you thought last week’s films were obscure. This week saw experimental comedy, beatnik films, films made from bits of other films, and someone’s ‘experimental’ home movies from Brighton. Prepare yourself.
Ron Rice is perhaps the most obvious starting point of this week’s artists, as he can actually be categorised; his Sense Less being an example of ‘Beat’ cinema. As a cinematic form, beat is something I’ve always struggled with. Seemingly just a collection of loosely themed images (the theme being beatniks), the films rarely have the depth of Ginsberg or the coherency of Kerouac. Sense Less fits perfectly into this strange category, showing a whole lot of not very much over an indeterminate period of time. The black and white cinematography is cool in a careless way, and the shot of a man handing out ‘Jesus was a beatnik’ pamphlets is priceless, but it all seems so empty. I can only conclude that Beat was yet another cultural movement that singularly failed to produce anything worth viewing in cinema, along with Dadaism and Warhol (I know he’s not a movement, but his films really are rubbish). Maybe Rice should have done a novel instead.
With his films, Owen Land manages to do exactly what Rice didn’t, and bring a movement to screen successfully, taking the curious route of classic surrealism via Monty Python. The first film we saw of his, Remedial Reading Comprehension, doesn’t bear this out, being typical art house fare of someone jogging in the dark while the words ‘This film is about YOU’ flash up sporadically. Wide Angle Saxon, on the other hand, could be ripped straight out of Flying Circus; with vast realms of gibberish, cartoons in the style of Gilliam, and the fantastic ending “Oh! It was all a dream.” It even makes a vague political point, with a newsreader’s words repeated over and over until they loose all meaning. Finally, experimental cinema you can really get your teeth into. Even better is his New Improved Institutional Quality in the Environment of Liquids and Nasals A Parasitic Vowel Sometimes Develops, which lasts half the time it takes to say the title and features a giant shoe. Sublime.
At this point, the lecture took a bit more of a turn for the experimental, and I was afforded the opportunity to get bored all over again. Malcolm Le Grice may have a lot going for him; his most famous film has (proportional to budget) grossed more than Star Wars, he’s worked in collaboration with Brian Eno, and his films are all constructed using bits of footage classically found in bins in the Soho area. However, his films are also back-breakingly dull, featuring a few shots repeated over and over in various colours and tones. Berlin Horse is a horse running round a tether in different colours, and Reign of the Vampire is repeating shots of warfare without even colour change to break up the monotony. It is as boring as it sounds.
Finally we come to the work of Jeff Keen, who knocked out his movies with a bunch of his friends in Brighton. Google his name and it’s the fifth hit, behind a man who will, allegedly, help you plan the BEST PARTY EVER. The only people who seem to have ever heard of him are the Brighton arts council. Still, popularity is not an inverse proportion to quality (thank god), so let’s give him a chance. A mixture of animation and live action (often superimposed over one another), Keen’s short films The Cartoon Theatre of Dr Gaz and Trilogy. Cineblatz, White Lite and Marvo Movie start off as a blur, but gradually slip into a nightmare. I’m thinking Marvo Movie in particular, with its demonic Mickey Mouse and overt phallic imagery. At times, the madness and sex as death/evil mantra is almost like a literal screen version of Naked Lunch, although its failure to gain horrible logic by the end ensures it never matches Burroughs’ classic. Instead, Keen’s films resemble what might happen if you gave a child a camera and a graphic description of sex, then traumatised it. Interesting and slightly disturbing, his work nonetheless goes terminally downhill when he extends his idea of a ‘short’ film to 45 minutes in his stupendously dull White Dust, which resembles giving a child a camera then failing to traumatise it. More humane perhaps, but certainly less interesting. And infinitely more irritating.
(A note): this will be the last Andy Lectures column for some time as Andy has stopped lecturing for the summer. Something as yet un-named will no doubt replace it, and at some point (in honour of the announced release of his unfinished film next year) I’m planning a retrospective on Orson Welles (as a director). Is there anything new to be said about the man who gave us Citizen Kane? Probably not, but I’m going to do it anyway.
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