Said Cocteau: “What one should do with the young is to give them a portable camera and forbid them to observe any rules except those they invent for themselves as they go along. Let them write without being afraid of making spelling mistakes.”
The documentary “Film as a Subversive Art” tells the story of Austrian-born film historian and curator Amos Vogel, who in 1947 established Cinema 16, America’s most important film club, and later the New York Film Festival, as well as publishing in 1974 one of the most legendary books on cinema ever, FILMAS A SUBVERSIVEART, which Norman Mailer called “the most exciting and comprehensive book I’ve seen on avant-garde, underground and exceptional commercial film.”
The film has been screened on PBS and at many archives and festivals worldwide, including International House (Philadelphia), Cinémathèque française in Paris, the Denver Film Festival – where Vogel was awarded the Stan Brakhage Award for Poetic Film – and festivals in Berlin, Tribeca, Jerusalem, PiFan (South Korea), San Francisco, Vancouver and Vienna, where Vogel‘s life and work was the subject of a major retrospective.
Published in 1973, FILMAS A SUBVERSIVEART is an oft-referenced, hugely influential, landmark text in the history of film literature. A book with no discernible beginning, middle, or end, it’s as energizing, entertaining, and important a work of film criticism as any that has ever been written – a labyrinthine trek through world cinema via one man’s visionary cosmology.
That man was Cinema 16 and New York Film Festival founder Amos Vogel (1922–2012), who dedicated his life to supporting the pioneering efforts of independent artists and aesthetic rebels. In its radical, impassioned polemics and dialectically-placed film frames, FILMAS A SUBVERSIVEART is the fulcrum of Vogel’s years as a film programmer, festival juror, lecturer, and critic.
Citing numerous films that have become increasingly difficult to see due to the vagaries of distribution, his book remains a Pandora’s box of cinematic treasures and an astute elucidation of the artist’s role in contemporary society.
“Will we ever break out of the mold of Profit Motive, Commercial Imperative, Bottom Line, Product? Will the awesome free spirit of humans ever be allowed to offer us splendiferous visions instead of the calculated spurious anti-fantasies generated by the current crop of Hollywood directors and producers? Whatever the answers, I am content knowing that I contributed to the dissemination of such visions, passionate creativity, and radical challenges. To question what exists and to radically transform it remain our most compelling imperatives.”
Based on John Geiger’s book Chapel of Extreme Experience, Nik Sheehan’s FLicKeR is a fascinating voyage into the life of artist and mystic Brion Gysin and his legendary invention the dream machine, a device that projects stroboscopic light, provoking a “drugless high” and cinematic hallucinations. In this Hot Docs world premiere Sheehan captures the dynamic, supernatural world of Gysin, the queer cultural terrorist who fused science, magic and art to expand human consciousness and transcend material reality.
Gysin’s biography is difficult to condense, but he grew up in Edmonton before reinventing himself as a bohemian globetrotter who went on to become the unacknowledged genius behind some of the most interesting developments in the 20th-century avant-garde. He died in 1986. Sheehan casts him as a radical artist intent on harnessing “the visionary potential of light” (as Geiger puts it) to revolutionary ends. Gysin was not a man but, like the machine, a way of perceiving the world — pure energy. He even tried to make himself invisible.
“It’s incredible that nobody’s made this film before,” says Sheehan, whose previous credits include God’s Fool about writer Scott Symons and the groundbreaking AIDS documentary No Sad Songs.
“I was surprised how anxious people were to open up and talk about Gysin because people have so many different views of him.” What is so compelling about FLicKeR is that Gysin remains mysterious and ephemeral throughout, no amount of talking could ever explain him.
Sheehan’s film is populated with a who’s who of pundits, countercultural figures and Gysin confidantes, reminding you that rock ‘n’ roll has always gone hand in hand with the most out-there shit: Marianne Faithfull, Iggy Pop, Kenneth Anger and Genesis P-Orridge all wax poetic on Gysin, magic and their most memorable trips, as do younger devotees like Lee Ranaldo and DJ Spooky. How did Sheehan land all these stellar interviewees? “That’s the magical question,” quips Sheehan. “It’s a very interesting group; they go back a long time. And because they’re cult figures they’ve obviously built up all these defences. So it was a very complicated and long and dedicated effort to bring everybody online.”
The film is also chock full of brilliant archival footage, particularly of Gysin, his art and his intensely fruitful and influential collaborations with William S Burroughs. We visit the “Beat Hotel” in Paris where these seditious kooks built a poor-man’s lab to transform the world through all manner of strange experiments in perception. “That’s one of the things about Gysin and Burroughs and these guys, it’s this combination of the silly and the sublime,” Sheehan says. “We have to remember how incredibly brave they were. They did not accept what society was offering — it was all lies. And they were very moral, good people in their way. With Nazi Germany they saw what could happen to a government [if] we get a little too trusting.
“That element of rebellion has something really serious.”
Sheehan feels Gysin’s gayness was fundamental. “A shaman to me is always a pansexual being,” says the gay Canadian filmmaker. “These guys all came out of that period where queer was really hardcore, it was part of their radical art — and of course it was illegal.”
Sheehan says his film “wasn’t so much a biography of Gysin or a story of the dream machine as a story of the dream machine as a biography of Gysin — the way the two fuse together. I think [the producers] were expecting it was just going to be this cute story about this spinning little machine, not these crazy queer mystics.
“The dream machine is [Gysin’s] ultimate work, this end-of-art thing that went beyond something you made to something you created individually in your own head.”
One challenge that Sheehan encountered was how to represent this internal, neurological phenomenon on screen, so there are many shots of people pressed up close to the device, eyes closed, narrating their experiences in ecstatic tones. It calls to mind Eric Emerson in Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls who just “groove[s] on myself” as coloured lights play over his body, a transcendence through narcissism. The dream machine isn’t much to look at — sort of like a twirling lampshade — so you have to take people’s word for it. But whether you can imagine what they are seeing or not, the ideas behind the machine are what matter.
“One of the things I really wanted to do is put things in the present tense, to give it some relevance,” says Sheehan. “The idea of trying to build a machine to change your world, we’re doing that all the time, aren’t we?
“The Beats came to fruition in the late ‘50s in the Eisenhower years where the world was petrified by the bomb and conformity was everything. Well, where are we now? We live in this time when we recently had this rightwing American government, which turned into a torture state. There are weird parallels. It was the old message: Don’t trust the man, he doesn’t always have your best interests at heart. And the dream machine is the perfect metaphor for this: Get rid of television, get rid of cinema, make your own inner movie, be your own person.”
In its enthusiasm for this long-gone cultural moment and its most beguiling catalyst, FLicKeR has great poignancy. At one point P-Orridge suggests that the control that Gysin and his comrades were fighting against is now diffuse and all-pervasive, and that rather than deserving to be liberated by the ultimate mind trip, the inert public now “deserve to have their bottoms smacked.”
In January 1985 Leigh Bowery started the now infamous poly-sexual Thursday disco club night “Taboo”. Originally an underground venture, it quickly became London’s Studio 54, only much wilder, extremely more fashionable, and without the masses of celebrities – although these came flocking in later. For everyone stepping through the doors it was a truly unforgettable experience.
Mark Davies wrote a book which later became a stage musical with lyrics by Boy George, and music by George and Kevan Frost.
Set in an abandoned London warehouse, the partly imagined story takes place in the location of what was the city’s most fashionable nightclub, the now-legendary Taboo (1985–87) of the title. Boy George is featured as one of the club’s regulars. The show also focuses on George’s life prior to and after achieving fame.
The show premiered in London’s West End at the Venue Theatre on January 29, 2002. Now in September 2012, Director Christopher Renshaw revived the show in a “site specific” form in Brixton Clubhouse in South London. The production was based on the original show with book by Mark Davies, but included several changes to the original soryline.
In this revival, Sam Buttery plays iconic 80s performance artist Leigh Bowery in Taboo, the story of bill-topping performers who defined a generation, including Steve Strange from Visage, the indefinable phenomenon that was Leigh Bowery, the one-man entrepreneur extraordinaire Philip Sallon. And then of course, there’s Boy George, travelling from squat to super-stardom from rock to rock bottom. The show interweaves some fantastical facts of the 80s with a classic love story of ambition, passion and betrayal.
Watch below a documentary about the FABULOUS Leigh Bowery and the original Taboo for your enjoyment. Shown during the spring of 1986 while Leigh Bowery was running his infamous nightclub Taboo, this documentary put Leigh on the map. A witty, provocative and inspiring film that includes a Bodymap fashion show, rare footage of Taboo, and interviews with Michael Clark and Lana Pillay, this documentary also reminds us what Leigh was like before he met Lucian Freud.
A film about reusing outdated technology in creative ways to revamp the music scene.
Europe in 8 bits is a documentary that explores the world of chip music, a musical trend that is growing exponentially throughout Europe. The stars of this musical movement reveal to us how to reuse old videogames hardware like Nintendo’s GameBoy, NES, Atari ST, Amiga and the Commodore 64 to turn them into a tool capable of creating a new sound, a modern tempo and an innovative musical style.
This is a new way of interpreting music performed by a great many artists who show their skills in turning these “limited” machines designed for leisure in the 80’s into surprising musical instruments and graphical tools.
Angelo Badalamente and David Lynch found the perfect synthesis of Hollyweird meets bohemian Euro-jazz set against an American North western every town that could never exist outside of a fever dream! With sickly cool blues-scapes droning under snapping fingers and sleepily brushed snares, Badalemnte and Lynch paint a disturbing portrait of small town America.
Winner of both the Academy Award for best foreign-language film and the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or, Marcel Camus’ Black Orpheus (Orfeu negro) brings the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice to the twentieth-century madness of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. With its eye-popping photography and ravishing, epochal soundtrack, Black Orpheus was an international cultural event.
The festive and haunting soundtrack to the film introduced Brazilian bossa nova to an entire world who quickly fell in love with its romantic themes of melancholy, and, to this day, it remains one of the most popular forms of world music. The soundtrack features the three main figureheads behind bossa nova, those being Antonio Carlos Jobim, Luiz Bonfá and João Gilberto.
For the Los Angeles artist Brian Butler, magic (or “magick,” as the case may be) is as modern as technology. Certain teachings may be ancient, he notes, but that doesn’t make them any less relevant. “In the modern world of computers, the same energies are still operating,” he says.
Butler was premiering his film, “The Dove and the Serpent,” at the LAXART Annex in Hollywood last year, and a gritty, glamorous crowd had gathered to watch a live musical performance featuring the legendary underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger.
Initially drawn together by a shared interest in Aleister Crowley and the occult, Butler and Anger have worked together for more than a decade, Butler producing Anger’s last few films and acting as creative director of the trippy short he made for Missoni’s fall 2010 campaign. Anger appears with Vincent Gallo in Butler’s film “Night of Pan,” and the two also formed the band Technicolor Skull.
The Dove and the Serpent is a meditation on alchemy; the title references the Hermetic principle “as above, so below.” Filmed at a castle in Normandy, France, with some friends he rounded up during Paris fashion week last fall, including Dash Snow’s sister Caroline and the cinematographer Edouard Plongeon, whose family provided the locale, the two-and-a-half minute piece is beautiful, hypnotic and vaguely sinister.
Shadowy figures shape-shift and meld with the elements, occult symbols flash and fade, and there is some covetable fashion on display, including a Masonic robe and an ivory silk gown by the London designer Qasimi.
The Bartzabel Working is a performance based on a ceremonial evocation of the spirit of Mars, first written and performed in London in 1910 by Crowley, the ritual later became part of Los Angeles history in 1946 when Jack Parsons conducted his own version of this rite with the intention of placing a Martial curse on a pre-scientology L. Ron Hubbard.
For his reinterpretation of this historical performance, Butler conjures Bartzabel, the spirit of Mars, evoking on the site that was once home to late sci-fi author Ray Bradbury and currently comprises L&M Gallery. And bellow is also a little gem of a video by Mr. Butler for The Black Lips…
“The fourth wall” is an expression stemming from the world of theater. In most modern theater design, a room will consist of three physical walls, as well as a an imaginary fourth that serves to separate the world of the characters from that of the audience.In fiction, “breaking the fourth wall” often means having a character become aware of their fictional nature.
Here’s a compilation of scenes and moments from films that all acknowledge that they’re part of a movie. The montage includes 54 different films (some used more than once) from perhaps the very first example of breaking the fourth wall right up to today.
In high school, Michael Lucid was an artsy, friendly kid who floated around from one campus clique to the next. “I was more approachable and kids felt comfortable talking to me,” he says of his time at Santa Monica’s Crossroads School, where he graduated in 1996.
Because Lucid was likeable and trustworthy, his teenage peers granted him the kind of insider access into their lives that most filmmakers only dream about capturing on film. Filmmakers like Larry Clark (Kids, Wassup Rockers), Catherine Hardwicke (Lords of Dogtown, Thirteen) and Penelope Spheeris (Decline of Western Civilization, Suburbia) all launched their careers by making films that depicted the harsh realities of American teenagers’ lives, but Lucid had an advantage over all of these filmmakers: he was himself a high schooler when he shot his gritty, painfully intimate documentary Dirty Girls, which has now become an instant cult sensation ever since it was uploaded to Youtube this month.
It was initially shot by a 17-year-old during the course of just two school days. Maybe you’ve seen the still frame of two messy-haired young girls being interviewed in a high school auditorium — an image that’s become ubiquitous after having been reblogged thousands of times by fans on Tumblr.
Lucid’s short documentary starts out with the following text: “In Spring of 1996, my senior year of high school, I documented a group of 8th grade girls who were notorious for their crass behavior and allegedly bad hygiene.…” The eighth grade girls he’s referring to are the film’s eponymous dirty girls, a clique of feminist riot grrrls led by sisters Amber and Harper, who became campus legends when they put on a punk rock show at the school’s beginning-of-year “alley party” and smeared lipstick all over their faces. Lucid remembers the performance being provocative and angry, so much so that it sparked an ongoing flurry of gossip — and the coining of the term “dirty girls” — that continued throughout the school year of ’96.
That Dirty Girls is Lucid’s biggest Internet success is ironic, considering his day job writing, performing and uploading web videos for World of Wonder, the production company behind shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and features like The Eyes of Tammy Faye and Party Monster. And, in an oddly fitting twist of fate, he’s returned to interviewing and reporting — but through his drag persona, Damiana Garcia, whom he refers to as “an intrepid lady reporter,” appearing in World of Wonder videos online.