Last night an evening of 11 short films from the Academy Film Archive, hosted by Marc Toscano.
Gary Beydler’s 1974 Pasadena Freeway Stills was beautiful, funny and clever. It made a completely banal view of driving through the tunnels on the Pasadena Freeway to the turnoff to the 5 into a magic trick—a demonstration of the magic trick of still images moving. Like a lot of the films in the program, it was a mediation on the constituent elements of the movies, but was also—35 years later—a document of an earlier Los Angeles.
Likewise the other really compelling film, Beydler’s 1976 Venice Pier. At first I didn’t care for it. I thought, “Zoom shots are to independent cinema what explosions are to commercial cinema. Enough is enough.” But this zoom was composed of footage shot over a year, in the different seasons (there are such) and at different times of day. Gradually I became absorbed by the diverse moods of his unprepossessing subject. It became a demonstration of the different faces a place can present under different conditions. The sky and sea at dawn, morning, noon, afternoon, sunset, night. The crowds of strollers and people fishing during summer days, the emptiness of the place during winter mornings and evenings, and all the incremental changes in-between. I lived in Venice when it was closed. I remember watching huge waves engulf the structure while eating breakfast at the Crab Shell at the end of Washington, and wondering how long the city was going to let people use it. It was always seemed derelict, but the fishermen enjoyed it. Little did I know it had already been immortalized in film.
Pat O’Neill & Robert Abel’s 1963 By The Sea also contained images of Old Venice Beach—particularly of people messing around on the Muscle Beach exercise equipment, and the Santa Monica pier merry-go-round (before renovation). We saw things in normal grey-scale and also in super-contrast black and white. Burned into my memory is the silhouette of a girl spinning in a white void.
Roberta Friedman and Grahame Weinbren’s Murray and Max Talk about Money(1979) was a dialectical materialist-structuralist period piece consisting of audio of two men pontificating about money cut up into absurd snippets accompanying images of David Wilson’s rear end as he endlessly painted and re-painted a wall. It was intermittently compelling but a long 15 minutes.
Fred Worden and Chris Langdon’s 1973 Venusville also juxtaposed audio and image: mostly static images of palm trees and audio of two guys enthusiastically discussing what must have been some other movie, which achieved moments of hilarity.
But the mean-spirited humor prize of the evening went to Langdon’s 1973 Picasso, which in 3 minutes disposes of its subject with a malicious glee that a few years later would be known as punk. “This is the actual voice of Picasso” a title card said, referring to a snippet of a demented old codger’s pointless anecdote which looped and looped on the soundtrack.
The evening ended with a 5 minute psychedelic extravaganza from 1968 that O’Neill, Neon Park and Chick Strand made for Sears—of all incredible things—to promote the skirts, blouses and jackets of their Junior Bazaar, complete with pink giraffes, boogaloo-ing girls trailing multiple afterimages and animated hamburgers marching in formation. Art or artifact, it was a gas.