brisbane screen culture: trials & glories

otherfilm: malcolm le grice, the image of time

{$slideshow} THE IMAGE OF TIME, A RETROSPECTIVE OF THE WORK OF SENIOR BRITISH ARTIST MALCOLM LE GRICE, INITIATED BY NEW ZEALAND CURATOR MARK WILLIAMS AND REALISED IN BRISBANE BY OTHERFILM, SHONE A LIGHT ON A QUEENSLAND SCREEN CULTURAL LANDSCAPE WHOSE CONTOURS ARE BEING REMAPPED. OVER TWO NIGHTS AT THE INSTITUTE OF MODERN ART AND THE TRIBAL THEATRE, THE LE GRICE PROGRAM WAS SUPPORTED BY AN INSTITUTION AT THE EPICENTRE OF THE CURRENT SHIFTS IN SCREEN CULTURE: THE BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (BIFF).

brisbane international film festival

There have been a few changes at BIFF lately, just like there’s been a bit of rain in Queensland. Huw Walmsley-Evans discusses the organisational purge at the city’s flagship screen event in the 57th edition of Senses of Cinema (which, like RealTime’s OnScreen has not been funded by Screen Australia for 2011). In 2009, BIFF was seen as “a diseased limb” of the troubled state film financing body, the Pacific Film and Television Commission, and so, “when the PFTC was purged, the blameless BIFF administration was also swept away.” The loss of director Anne Demy-Geroe, whose 17-year stewardship of the festival saw it foster and grow a deep appreciation for grown-up film in Brisbane, was felt in 2010. Walmsley-Evans pays tribute to the artful layering of Demy-Geroe’s “Russian-doll”-like programs, with their thematic and aesthetic sub-sections, “digressions, riffs, fully fledged retrospectives, tributes and established areas of specialist interests,” and notes with some chagrin the etiolated Asia-Pacific and Middle Eastern programming.

trash video

Digressions, riffs, retros, tributes and specialist interests were a casualty of another 2010 demise, that of Trash Video, which closed the doors of its West End bunker for the last time in August. More than just an independent video store, Trash, like BIFF, acted as a public gateway to the cinematic state of mind. Presided over by Andrew ‘Stumpy’ Leavold, Trash offered an absorbing education in the unfamiliar, unsettling and sometimes unsanitary worlds of B-movies and cult cinema. While all film programmers are people of passion, there are few with Stumpy’s almost messianic exaltation of the most mutant, malformed, only-a-mother-could-love them films. The organised chaos of the physical Trash universe may be gone, but Stumpy’s unflagging devotion to ‘other cinema’ lives on with other unmistakeably ‘Trash’ projects. At BIFF, he introduced the Philippines exploitation cinema overview, Machete Maidens Unleashed, fronted by Mark Hartley (who directed the exploitation cinema doco, 2009’s Not Quite Hollywood). As Trash Video Film Club patrons may recall, the words “Filipino midget private eye” remain inextricably associated with the store and the man whose Search for Weng Weng remains legend.

Machete Maidens’ BIFF premiere, as part of the Shock Corridor section of cult, grindhouse and exploitation cinema (which, Walmsley-Evans notes, is “the one recognisable holdover from Anne Demy-Geroe’s programming”) coincided with the festival’s presentation of the Malcolm Le Grice program at the Institute of Modern Art. IMA and BIFF have partnered memorably before, with the tour de force Shoot Shoot Shoot program of British avant-garde film curated by Mark Webber in 2002, and with film artist Guy Sherwin’s performance program in 2008.

malcolm le grice

The Malcolm Le Grice program lent first-hand substance to arguments that this kind of work finds a natural home in the white cube; certainly, in comparison to the black box of the theatre, the gallery space seems to more readily adapt to the aesthetic and material challenges of staging hybrid experimental work. At the IMA, Le Grice’s 40-year career was surveyed in installation, film and video screenings and performance. At the artist’s suggestion, the meta-cinematic work After Leonardo (1974) was installed in multi-screen across the smooth white interior of the gallery, allowing for a wall-to-ceiling immersion in the work’s play with film frames/video frames. The playful deconstruction of art history is a marker of the filmmaker’s modernist pedigree and, as the artist explained in his affable unscripted address to the crowd, also a way to pose questions about the relations between cinema, experimental film and painting.

As a film festival venue, the gallery space afforded critical intimacy to the audience with the projected works and the artist himself. Nowhere was this more evident than in Horror Film 1. For many in the capacity crowd, the chance to finally experience Le Grice’s legendary 1971 multi-projector film-performance, re-enacted in all its kaleidoscopic, confrontational glory, was a high point in the cinematic year. In contrast, something of the sense of critical liveness of the second expanded cinema performance, 1972’s Threshold, was lost at the conclusion of the second program the following night. This three-projector performance, at the more traditional cinematic venue, the Tribal Theatre, nonetheless provided insight into the interplay between projection processes and human vision, showing how, as Le Grice explained, “film is, at each stage, raw material for new transformation.” The program illuminated how sensitive we have all become to the specificities of space—physical, phenomenological, social and institutional—in the experience of moving image art.

gallery of modern art

Concomitant with the unfolding of the first new-regime BIFF program, the Gallery of Modern Art screened yet another extraordinary program. Pier Paolo Pasolini: We Are All In Danger was precisely the kind of exceptional, world-class retrospective program Brisbanites have come to expect from the programming powerhouse of Kathryn Weir and her team. As other institutions have been dismantled or reformed, the Cinémathèque has continued to amaze and exceed expectations, and is consistently rewarded with growing audiences at even the most demanding films. It is clear that the strategy of astutely curated ‘blockbuster’ seasons with the power to partly subsidise or offset the programming of contemplative films from all corners of the globe is an ideal model. Audiences are fortunate—and relieved—that the Cinémathèque, despite closure for some weeks following the flood, appears to have survived with its enthusiasm for adventurous programming undampened.

In addition to exciting imaginations with the BIFF show, IMA brought the extravagant Nollywood metacinema of photographer Pieter Hugo, and the installed audiovisual mayhem of Christian Marclay to further expand Brisbane’s moving image experience and develop the relations between visual art and screen culture. The year also saw more growth and renewal in Brisbane’s independent sector with the promising signs heralded by the newborn Brisbane Underground Film Festival and flourishing artist-run initiative scene, showing that amidst strife and cataclysm, new conditions of possibility are always emerging.

Malcolm Le Grice, The image of Time, a joint project with OtherFilm, Institute of Modern Art, New Zealand Film Archive and Screen Queensland, Brisbane Film Festival, Nov 4-14, 2010

RealTime issue #101 Feb-March 2011 pg. 35

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

1 February 2011
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