Herb Shellenberger

Found Yet Lost – Rare American Experimental Films in the LUX Collection
January 17, 2016
London, UK

Winter Epitaph for Michael Furey, William Wees, 1967, US, 16mm, silent, 6'
Tea for Two, Al Wong, 1971, US, 16mm, sound, 5'
European Diaries, Taylor Mead, 1966, US, 16mm with sound on tape, 44'
Gertrude Stein Film, William Moritz, 1969, US, 2x16mm, silent, 9'

Curator Herb Shellenberger explores American experimental films in the LUX collection, particularly films that are not currently in distribution in the United States. How has the LUX collection, an archive of international films and videos in active distribution, facilitated the preservation of these works that are, at this point in time, quite rare and obscure?

Barely the tip of the iceberg, the four films shown in this program have not been screened for years. Included are: a film made by writer/professor William Wees, best known for his books Recycled Images: The Art and Politics of Found Footage and Light Moving in Time; a rarely-seen early film from San Francisco filmmaker/performance/conceptual artist Al Wong; Warhol Superstar Taylor Mead’s single-frame European travelogue, listed in several texts as a key film of the 1960s New American Cinema; and a psychedelic double-screen work by film historian William Moritz, an expert on experimental animation and visual music.

This screening and the research surrounding it acts as a way of thinking through works that have fallen through the cracks. An accompanying article for the LUX website will situate this project as a way to investigate artist film and video works that have been—either wrongly or perhaps entirely deservingly—unseen for decades.

Winter Epitaph for Michael Furey, William Wees, 1967
A somber 16mm piece with layered images and hues of blue, shot in a snowy graveyard. The blue is contrasted with the orange-gold of a sunset and face of a woman. Wees enigmatically offers the film was “Inspired by the final paragraph of Joyce’s story ’The Dead’—but in no sense a recreation of that paragraph, or even an interpretation of it.” He also ends his short description by rightfully saying: “The film is very silent.” —Herb Shellenberger

Tea for Two, Al Wong, 1971
“The objective is to show myself visiting myself, and then showing the frustration of loneliness, by trying to be with myself.” —Al Wong

Wong’s film shows a mysterious figure entering an apartment and sitting with another figure, who we come to decipher is its doppelgänger. Both male and female sex organs are shown and the atmosphere is kinky yet dejected. This white and black binary/mirroring anticipates Wong’s later expanded cinema and performance film works like Shadow and Chair. —Herb Shellenberger

European Diaries, Taylor Mead, 1966
“Paris is the queen of cities and us aging queens need to stick together!” —Taylor Mead

European Diary is one of a few travelogue films that Taylor Mead made in the late 1960s. Though others are available to rent from the Film-Makers’ Coop, European Diary seems to only be held at LUX via the collection of the London Film-Makers’ Cooperative. Taking Jonas Mekas’s staccato style of 16mm Bolex shooting to an extreme, Mead represents images and moments often with one or a few frames, truly stretching out the film as far as it would go. Venice, Rome, Cassis—at the chateau of Jerome Hill with Mekas—and Paris—for the premiere of Warhol’s Frankenstein—are shown through images of Mead’s fixations: lights, graffiti, people, mechanical dolls and knick-knacks, gardens and many, many cats. The soundtrack, seemingly recorded back in New York while viewing the films as a sort of vacation wrap-up, consists of piano and (drunken?) conversations with Mekas, Ken Jacobs and others. A transcendent cover of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” turns into “Ain’t Got No Frankenstein.”

Gertrude Stein Film, William Moritz, 1969
Filmmaker’s note: “Rose incense should be burned during projection.”

“A film Gertrude Stein would make if she were alive today. A film about time and ritual, a film of contrasts and repetitions, a film about The Making of Americans.” —William Moritz

A woman in a rose garden, a man underneath a Cadillac sign. Moritz’s psychedelic film is advanced in technique, employing beautifully shot outdoor sequences, found footage and strobing colors in equal measure. Delicate shots of bees flying through pink flowers mix with brutalist architecture. Though it’s unclear whether the film achieves its aim towards Stein’s vision and ambition, the electronic soundtrack full of echo unites the disparate sequences and sly construction. —Herb Shellenberger