A make/see festival

Noel Purdon

With the mainstream Adelaide Festival, like Ophelia, now celebrated with maimed rites, it is left to Katrina Sedgwick’s dynamic Fringe festival to restore the full ceremony. One of the most innovative sections is in film and digital media, curated by documentary filmmaker Heather Croall. Drawing on 3 main sources—Mirrorball, Digi-Docs and Flicker—around which workshops and forums converge, she has signalled her energetic presentation in its overall title. Shooting from the Hip takes its ammunition from the old and the new, the analogue and the digital. So it is not surprising to see as much attention given to the revival of Super-8 film as to the coolest cuts of band-bites for Fat Boy Slim.

Born 7 years ago from the Edinburgh Festival, Mirrorball now glitters as the highlight of music video. With Spike Jonze’s success and international commissions, it has encouraged young directors to move from promos to features. I must admit immediately to having some reservations about its links with consumerist capitalism and throwaway gloss. Chris Cunningham is typical. Having worked on special effects with Clive Barker and Stanley Kubrick, he decided to “switch from using one side of (my) head to the other.” Simply translated, this appears to mean that he would allow sound to lead him towards whatever visuals appeared, to let the library of sound in his head grow into the cacophony of visual noise that pollutes Times Square, Shinjuku and the Pompidou Centre. (It’s no accident that most of Mirrorball’s commissioners are French and Japanese.) At its worst, his productions are adolescent tantrums of screaming violence. They work in short grabs, but the longer they rage the more intolerable and indecipherable they become. Nor do they always correspond to his intentions. Any critic ought to be suspicious of an artist who can come out with statements such as, “It’s only something that people pick up on, y’know what I mean?”

Cunningham shows one of the dangers of crawling into bed with the ad industry. His best and latest work has started to confront the dilemma. Hired to use marching cheerleaders, for example, he gradually and spitefully (his word) takes it over the top until the product and the spuriously sexist method of marketing become parodies.

There is an even greater sense of the No Logo approach in the work of Michel Gondry. Both visionary and aesthete, he plays with altering the horizontal and vertical planes of the ‘box’ into which he turns the frame. An entire apartment block becomes both a cross-section of urban life and a dislocated Rear Window. His palindromes approach brilliance. A splitscreen of 2 girls performing the same actions is in near perfect synch, except that one is moving forward in time and the other backward. Like a verbal palindrome, it can be read either right to left or vice-versa. As features such as Run, Lola, Run and Memento have demonstrated, this kind of experimentation is vital to the development of the cinematic apparatus. Gondrys’ masterwork is a clip in which a book starts printing itself as it’s read, and then erases itself and its readers back to a forest.

Mike Mills shares Gondry’s love of graphic design, especially comic strips. In his cut ups, balloons issue from dogs’ faces and Sexy Boy is a giant monkey. “He’s great!” the dogs affirm. Hating banal band promos, Mills hijacks bad commercials to overload their kitsch component. If he thinks a song is pretentious he ‘perverts’ it. He has literally turned several boy bands into dolls, for example. Either the promoters don’t get it or they laugh all the way to the bank.

The Flicker component from LA perhaps requires a context unfamiliar to ad watchers. Super-8 shooting depends on either an immaculate eye for the long take, or editing the delicate little strips with skills usually possessed only by brain surgeons. Because the stock comes unstriped for sound, it is often associated either with home movies, on the spot footage, or fill-ins required by television researchers on programs showing the biography of a figure like JFK. But in the hands of Stan Brakhage and Jonas Mekas the medium has been a constant reminder that such footage is always the history of nations. Flicker founder Norwood Cheek, shows how much this inheritance has been continuous since the 60s. He will be providing hands-on workshops in Super-8, a medium easily crushed by high-tech advertisers, but abjectly sought by those same clients when they need it, in the name of ‘home movies’ and, therefore, actuality.

The Digi-Docs component, from Banff in Canada and with the support of the AFC and Cinemedia, reveals the latest part of the margin which is pushing its way towards the centre. With the advantage of inbuilt sound and minimal intrusion into the set-up, these little monsters can plague immediate documentary more stealthily, and reserve for future use the bizarre and the political. Want a feature doco about LP fanatics? Try Crumb’s Alan Zweig with his feature Vinyl. And for more encompassing uses it would be hard to beat Peter Wintonick’s Cinéma Vérité: Defining the Moment. This is real technology for the masses, from activists to Third World workers and journalists.

What each of these components has in common is a genuine sense of the interactive: not just computer stimulus/response automatism where you click on a Klingon and are rewarded with an explosion. Ken Paul Rosenthal will be on hand to show just how to handle those damn finicky strips of Super-8. And beside the Boy Bands, what about the Girl Directors? Andrea Richards has written a book on the subject (Girl Director: the guide for the first time flat broke filmmaker), and is making herself available in workshops catering for local adolescents as well as international big-timers. This lively Fringe will have free outdoor screenings. The workshops are cheap and participants can submit their own VJ concepts. To get a glimpse of the webpage connections, slick design, and using a long spoon to eat with the devil, type these URLs in your browser: www.bluesource.com [link expired] and www.shynola.co.uk [link expired].

Adelaide Fringe festival, Shooting from the Hip: Mirrorball, March 8-10; Flicker, Feb 23-26; Digi Docs, March 15-16, The Cinema, L5, Union House, The Hub, Adelaide University.

RealTime issue #47 Feb-March 2002 pg. 9

© Noel Purdon; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2002
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