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Cinema as a Subversive Art: An All-Night Filmic Wake for Amos Vogel

Fri 21 - Sat 22 Sep 2012 / 23.00 - 07.30

The Cinema Museum, Kennington, SE11 4TH
Book online


As part of the nationwide Scala Beyond season, Little Joe magazine and LUX have joined forces to commemorate and celebrate the life and legacy of Amos Vogel, founder of the legendary film society Cinema 16 and author of the indispensible ‘Film as a Subversive Art’, who passed away in April 2012. In tribute to a true champion of radical cinema, we will present selected programmes of films, both shorts and features, included in Vogel’s seminal book throughout the night at the Cinema Museum, many screening from original 35mm and 16mm prints.
Refreshments will be available throughout the night, with free tea and coffee for all ticket holders. Tickets are £15 and are strictly limited to 100 places, advance booking is recommended.
We would also highly recommend another event locally earlier in the evening, the Jeff Keen performances at in Tate Modern’s tanks – a perfect double-bill!


Razor Blades (Paul Sharits, 1965-1968, 25mins), double projection 2 x 16mm

‘Hypnotic multi-screen avant-garde film, consisting of unrelated, compulsively recurring images, a few frames in length, interrupted by irregularly-spaced blank or color frames or lettering. A powerful rhythm and stroboscopic flicker is created by insistent alterations of image and blank frames. Each frame shown here is visibile for only 1/24th of a second, inducing subliminal absorption of image clusters. This complex and controversial experiment utilizes two screens and the simultaneous projection of two separate films working in tandem. Each consists of unrelated, compulsively recurring images, not more than a few frames in length, interrupted by carefully-spaced blank or color frames. A powerful overall rhythm and stroboscopic flicker is created by the irregular but insistent alternations of image and blankness. The result is a powerful subliminal barrage of strong sensory impressions probing the audience’s physiological and psychological limits. Related to neo-dada and pop, the film is strongly structuralist and reductive in its avoidance of “meaning” or “plot”, yet offers the satisfaction of pure response to color, pattern, and — particularly — rhythm. The images, though intentionally without logic, are frequently “hot” and endlessly repetitive: a fetus, a nude woman (with a razor passing over her), a penis (flaccid or erect), some ambiguous toilet activity; equally ritualistic is the repeated appearance of single, senseless words printed over some of the images. An agitated, monotonous electronic sound accompanies the swiftly moving, constantly changing visuals and flicker patterns.

Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren, 1943, 14mins), 16mm

‘A decade before Resnais and Robbe-Grillet, Maya Deren — catalyst and pioneer of the American avant-garde movement — creates a work that distorts and intermingles past and present, time and place, reality and fantasy until they are seen as a potential or real continuum. An incident becomes the subject of a fearful dream which, in the end, intersects with actuality and destroys the heroine. Throughout, literal time and actual place are abolished, as time is reversed, accelerated or slowed and actions are frozen, condensed, repeated, or expanded. The haunting and mysterious quality of the visuals, the poetic montage and filmic rhythm — proceeding in utter silence –create a lasting classic of the international avant-garde, lyrical in character, abstract rather than narrative in structure.’

WR: Mysteries of the Organism (Dusan Makavejev, 1971, 84mins), 35mm

‘Beneath the film’s lighthearted frivolity and marvelous humor lurks a more serious ideological intent: opposition to all opressive social systems, East or West, the removal of prurience from sex and a final squaring of accounts by the new radicals with the now reactionary Russian regime. In a poignant sequence that will live in film history, the girl, Milena Dravic (in love with the Russian skater, and rejected by him because of his fear of sex and ascetic devotion to a lifeless myth of revolution), starts beating him blindly, repeatedly, while delivering some of the saddest, most disillusioned indictments yet offered against Stalinism in any film, and denounces his revolution as “a puny lie disguised as a great historic truth”. Thus Makavejev is quite accurate in describing his film as “a black comedy, a political circus, a fantasy on the fascism and communism of human bodies, the political life of human genitals, a proclamation of the pornographic essence of any system of authority and power over others.” The film is also a tribute to the ultimate power of ideas over institutions; the production of such a work in Yugoslavia contributes to the regime’s evolution. Its eventual showing there — impossible at the time of writing — would testify to the regime’s self-confidence and its realization of the film’s unquestionably revolutionary stand.’
(Part 1 duration = 123mins)


The Secret Cinema (Paul Bartel, 1968, 30mins), 16mm

‘Through a series of hilarious yet increasingly disturbing incidents, a young girl becomes convinced she suffers from a paranoid delusion that her life is being secretly filmed and projected in separate chapters at a local movie house. In an extremely clever play on illusion and reality, she — and we — discover that she is right. Beneath the flippant facade an uncomfortable black comedy unfolds, as the filmmaker deftly manipulates our subconcious; for the plight of the hapless heroine, confused, paranoid, surrounded by people who seldom are what they seem to be, corresponds to our own deepest fears.’

Punishment Park (Peter Watkins, 1971, 88 mins), Blu-ray/DVD

‘The British director of The War Game offers a radical film about America’s future. Based on the President’s power, under the 1950 McCarran Internal Security Act, to set up detention camps for the radical Left in case of an insurrection, this “allegory in the form of a documentary” postulates a situation, some years hence, in which revolutionaries are confined without due legal recourse and given the choice of either serving 15 years in a concentration camp, or 3 days in a special “punishment park”. Here they must attempt, on foot and without water, to reach an American Flag, situated about 50 miles away in an arid desert landscape, while pursued (and if possible, trapped) by police and National Guard; if they reach their goal, they are free; if not, they must serve their sentence.  While the tension — created by montage and a very mobile camera — is unrelenting, this ultimately emerges more as a political horror film than a serious statement. Though the existence of as yet empty concentration camps has been confirmed in the American press, the sadistic game and the device of the park seem arbitrary and artificial, limiting the radical potential of the film instead of broadening it.’
(Part 2 duration = 118mins)


Fuses (Carolee Schneemann, 1965, 18mins), 16mm

‘A unique film document by one of America’s most original intermedia artists. Drawing on documentary footage of her and her lover’s lovemaking, it builds a strongly poetic texture of feeling and experience by subjecting the filmstrip to the most violent experimentation (soaking it in acids and dyes; baking, painting, and scratching it) and dissolving narrative continuity into a continuum of non-sequential, polymorphous and strongly “pornographic” imagery. Nevertheless, as Gene Youngblood observes in Expanded Cinema: “This is a home, not a whorehouse” and the filmmaker’s sensitivity and authenticity never let us forget it.’

The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes (Stan Brakhage, 1971, 32mins), 16mm

‘Inevitably, it is an avant-garde filmmaker who confronts us for the first time with morgue and autopsy room. This is an appalling, haunting work of great purity and truth. It dispassionately records whatever transpires in front of the lens; bodies sliced length-wise, organs removed, skulls and scalp cut open with electric tools, blood drawn; a fly that walks on the sole of a foot, undisturbed. There are timeless images: the hands, closed forever upon themselves, the dead eyes, the deft and simple opening of a body’s surface, the empty abdominal cage (a hole at the bottom leading to the outside), suddenly poignant clothes (the unexpectedly final attire of murder or accident victims), a penis (at last at peace) attached to an open, gaping body. Life and death are inextricable here, as doctors and orderlies (never clearly seen) mingle with and manipulate the inert flesh, dead and live hands often touching its strong close-ups. After every act of carnage, the merciful white sheet descends on the remains, a symbolic gesture reinforced in series of quick, haunting fades. Then the camera follows (in tracking shots and rapid cuts) a surrealist procession of dimly-lit heaps — at times still red with blood — on stretchers and under shrouds, receding into the distance along bleak corridors under greenish lights. A great desire “to see clearly” informs the work — the film’s title derives from the Greek meaning of the term “autopsy” — a refusal to sentimentalize or to avert one’s glance; yet the “objective” filmmaker continuously breaks through to compassion and horrified wonder in his selection of shots, angles, and filmic continuity. With almost the entire film photographed in close-up or medium shot and utter silence, form and content are for once perfectly blended to create a subversive work that changes our consciousness. This final demystification of man — an unforgettable reminder of our physicality, fragility, mortality — robs us of metaphysics only to reintroduce it on another level; for the more physical we are seen to be, the more marvelous becomes the mystery.’

Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (Kenneth Anger, 38 min), 16mm

‘This film is a study in black magic, a startling and macabre evocation of an occult ritual; the convocation of the Theurgists and Enchantresses; the Feeding of the Idol, the Incantations, the Ceremonies of Consummation. A luxuriant, baroque oddity in the tradition of decadent art, this wicked film is a tribute to Aleister Crowley, self-styled Master Magickian of the 20s, lovingly performed by his latter-day American disciples. Anger’s elegant, luxuriantly seditious imagery and exotic imagination stamp this as a brilliant work of black art, confirming the filmmaker as one of the true subversive iconoclasts of the cinema.’
(Part 3 duration = 88mins)


Lapis (James Whitney, 1966, 10mins), 16mm

‘Whether working together with his brother John, or singly, as here, James Whitney is one of the foremost pioneers of abstract cinema. Since the 60s, his work has turned increasingly complex, computer-oriented and religious in the cosmic sense. Lapis is hypnotic, centering around a mandala pattern and Indian music, and proceeding through ascending stages of wordless visual contemplation. Though the image is non-objective — or perhaps because — the viewer, caught in its ever more consistent rhythms, loses himself in order to find his truer self. The orchestrations of ever-changing dots round a transforming, fiery core, coupled with the monotonously beautiful music, become hallucinatory. “The only subversive aspect of my film is the unrecognized, but mighty taboo; our tacit conspiracy to ignore who, or what we really are, Tat-Swam-Asi (That Art Thou), the startling and psychologically “subversive” way of realizing that the self is in fact the root and ground of the universe — a realization so strange and inadmissible to the West that it is virtually our most rigid taboo.” (James Whitney)’

Free Radicals (Len Lye, 1979, 4mins), 16mm

‘”A Free Radical is a fundamental particle of matter which contains the energy of all chemical change, very much like a compressed spring before release. The film gives an artistically symbolic portrayal of fundamental energy.” With beautiful, exemplary economy, this long-neglected masterpiece of animation creates a perfectly controlled abstraction that foreshadowed the contemporary “cosmic” view in its fusion of science and mystery. The nervous, vibrating, non-objective designs, under constant, agitated tension, were directly engraved on blank film — black leader, without the intervention of a camera.’

Off/on (Scott Bartlett, 1970, 10 mins), 16mm

‘One of the most important attempts so far to express the new sensibility directly and poetically, in a perfect, magical fusion of non-verbal communication and advanced technological filmmaking (video-manipulation, multiple exposures and printing, solarization and synthetic color). Indeterminacy, the union of opposites, the cosmic, the expansion of consciousness, the going beyond rationalism; all these are intimated purely visually, almost subliminally—to those willing to see.’

The Incredible Shrinking Man (Jack Arnold, 1957, 81mins), DVD

‘Close-ups can be deceptive: a man is about an inch tall and leans against the wire mesh of a small casement window.Having continuously shrunk throughout this haunting film and survived a thousand crises, he now seems ready for a happy end; it comes, but in a way that has made this work a memorable cult film of the new pantheists; for, shrinking further and literally disappearing into the vegetation outside, the man at last understands that he gained freedom only by becoming small enough to pass through the previously impregnable wire; and that — by shrinking into “nothingness” — he is now to be one with all that exists.’
(Part 4 duration = 105mins)
Ends 7.30am