Sunday, May 9, 2010

When Look Runs Out

"Artist/filmmaker Pat O'Neill's 1989 Sundance Grand Jury Prize–winning experimental feature Water & Power — a sort-of Chinatown-meets–Koyaanisqatsi-on-nootropics dealie — is rightfully recognized as one of the signal artifacts of late 20th century L.A. culture, not to mention a radical turning point in experimental cinema. Since making that splash, after a quarter-century toiling in the experimental-cinema mines (and the somewhat more lucrative special-effects fields), O'Neill has expanded his reputation into the art world with gallery and museum exhibitions of his sculptures, drawings, prints and projection-based installations. His double-barreled 2002 magnum opus film/interactive CD-ROM, The Decay of Fiction, took his ambivalent relationship with narrative into even more interdimensional realms (by way of Hollywood noir and the Ambassador Hotel), and marked his first artistic engagement with digital media."

"But digital filmmaking as such has only recently surfaced as a primary medium in O'Neill's oeuvre, all his earlier work having been meticulously rendered on actual photographic stock using an optical printer, a now-obsolete mechanism for re-photographing and compositing layers of different films. This Monday, May 10, the fruits of O'Neill's recent embrace of DV will be debuted at REDCAT in Disney Hall, the downtown exhibition/performance facility of CalArts, where O'Neill co-founded the film and video department in 1970. I Open the Window, I Put Out My Hands and Starting to Go Bad (all 2009) are three short films — or videos or whatever — that translate the auteur's formal and conceptual obsessions into a decidedly more improvisational and diaristic medium than the meticulously composed collages-in-motion that have been his trademark."

"Celluluddites will piss and moan, but many of O'Neill's aesthetic concerns — looping, layering, morphing, mirroring, sampling (of landscape, architecture, advertising, found and borrowed cinematography and the human body) — anticipated and mapped out the strengths of the digital-art vocabulary with uncanny accuracy, decades before the fact. And with uncommon skill.
"O'Neill's films — in spite of their seizure-inducing editing and hard-to-follow story lines — are nevertheless crowd-pleasers, due in large part to the artist's remarkable visual talent. I've seen skeptical stoners who would not sit through five minutes of Godard absolutely riveted as I showed them O'Neill's psychedelic abstract symmetry manifesto 7362 (1967), currently available on the National Film Preservation Foundation's amazing DVD Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde Film, 1947-1986.

"7362 will also soon be available from O'Neill's DIY DVD label at — a self-preservationist strategy more noncareerist filmmakers would take heed to follow. The label is in the process of issuing a series of discs encompassing O'Neill's extensive undertakings, from 1963's By the Sea through his landmark Runs Good, Saugus Series and Trouble in the Image, his two feature-length experiments — still being remastered — and into his current body of digital work. This is a treasure trove of psychedelic eye candy of the most rigorous kind; poetic structuralism with a gee-whiz factor of 11..."

Read the rest of Movies Go Bad here

Attend Starting to Go Bad: Recent Narratives by Pat O'Neill at Redcat Monday May 10 @ 8:30 PM

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