The Disappearance Show

Curated by Erika Balsom


Presto, change-o!  Ever since the birth of cinema, film has been making things appear, disappear, and transform.  At the turn of the last century, Georges Méliès made women materialize out of thin air, while Louis Lumière captured fleeting moments that otherwise would have been lost to the oblivion of the everyday. From technological obsolescence to the decay of time, from magical dematerializations to the conceptual invisibility of women in patriarchal culture, the ten films presented here follow the footsteps of those early cinema illusionists by exploring different inflections of What It Means to Disappear.  In a medium concerned above all with the status of the visible, tonight’s films represent an effort to figure failures of sight, be they literal, figurative, or both. There are voids and there are absences, but circling in that inky blackness are occasions for memory, beauty, fragility, and even humour…  C’mon down – let’s do the Disappear together. – EB

FEATURING: The Black Imp by Georges Melies (3:30, video, 1905), The Film of Her by Bill Morrison (12:00, 16mm reduction print, 1996), Her Fragrant Emulsion by Lewis Klahr (10:30, 16mm, 1987), Removed by Naomi Uman (6:00, 16mm, 1999), Take Off by Gunvor Nelson (10:00, 16mm, 1972), Historical Moment by Paige Sarlin (7:30, video, 2005), Gloria! by Hollis Frampton (9:30, 16mm, 1979), Answer Me by Ethan White (7:00, video, 2007), Elsewhere by Luke Sieczek (6:00, 16mm, 2005), Duo Concertantes by Larry Jordan (9:00, 16mm, 1964)

TRT 81:00


The Black Imp by Georges Meilies (3:30, video, 1905) A mischevious imp reeks havoc on a man trying to get some sleep. Chairs multiply and dissapear while furniture magically moves about the room in a short film that reveals the early-twentieth century anxiety surrounding the possibility of reproducibility, embodied nowhere more strongly than in the nascent cinema.

The Film of Her by Bill Morrison (12:00, 16mm reduction print, 1996) Film is often held to be the technology of preservation par excellence, but Morrison’s practice insists on investigating the instability and frailty of the medium as it ages. Intensely invoking the pathos of decay, The Film of Her details the vicissitudes of the archive by memorializing a forgotten curator at the Library of Congress’ Paper Prints Collection.

Her Fragrant Emulsion by Lewis Klahr (10:30, 16mm, 1987) Here, Klahr employs a process called direct film collage: “…bits of cut-up film are glued and taped to clear film leader, then force-fed through a projector and rephotographed, giving the final scratched and blurred images a distinctly handmade feel….The original material has been cut into jagged vertical strips and the images look like animated strips of photo stills. The mutilated pictures seem to float side to side. They jostle the dirty leader for space, creating an internal montage in which they are read not only in succession but in tandem.” –Manola Darghis

Removed by Naomi Uman (6:00, 16mm, 1999) Using found footage from 1970s pornography, Uman converts the conceptual invisibility of the figure of the woman into literal obliteration using nail polish and bleach. Ghostly and amorphous, the flickering void left by her absence breaks through the sleek veneer of the genre to expose its covert agenda.

Take Off by Gunvor Nelson (10:00, 16mm, 1972) Perhaps a response to Bruce Conner’s Breakaway, this film has been described as “a metaphysical striptease.” B. Ruby Rich writes, “Ellion Ness, a thoroughly professional stripper, goes through her paces, bares her body, and then, astonishingly and literally, transcends it. While the film makes a forceful political statement on the image of woman and the true meaning of stripping, the intergalactic transcendence of its ending locates it firmly within the mainstream of joyous humanism and stubborn optimism.”

Historical Moment by Paige Sarlin (7:30, video, 2005) A companion piece to her longer documentary, in this piece Sarlin documents the ceremony surrounding the production of the last Carousel slide projector by Eastman Kodak to explore issues of technological change, obsolescence, analogue, digital, stillness, and movement. And in case you were wondering: no, the funeral was not staged.

Gloria! by Hollis Frampton (9:30, 16mm, 1979) This was the final film scheduled in Frampton’s monumental Magellan cycle, which was projected to involve some one thousand films screened over a period of 369 days. Starting with an early film adaptation of Finnegan’s Wake and ending with computer text, the film is at once a eulogy to Frampton’s grandmother and to a century of cinema, moving, as Ed Halter has phrased it, “from photographic body to digital ghost.”

Answer Me by Ethan White (7:00, video, 2007) White films and refilms off of a television monitor to chronicle the degradation of the image from digital sharpness to a painterly blur. Representational forms give way to bleeding colours and dialogue to ambient sound, but strangely the central affect of the original—an uncanny terror—only grows stronger as we loose our hold on the legibility of the image through a series of repetitions.

Elsewhere by Luke Sieczek (6:00, 16mm, 2005) In Elsewhere, Sieczek brings together the familiarity of domestic spaces with a sense of loss and distance that suggests these recognizable rooms and objects exist somewhere else entirely, in a space and time that is at once related to but separate from our own. This haunting lyric film possesses a remarkable unity of form and content that allows it to shift between visibility and obscurity, remembrance and forgetting, familiar and strange.

Duo Concertantes by Larry Jordan (9:00, 16mm, 1964) Friend of Joseph Cornell and perennial Magic Lantern favourite, Larry Jordan returns with perhaps his best-known film. An animation that uses cut outs from Victorian engravings, it recalls both the surrealist collage of Max Ernst and the early magic films of Georges Méliès in its penchant for surprising materializations and juxtapositions and, in the words of P. Adams Sitney, creates “an exquisite space and time where reverie and dream meet, delicately poised between nostalgia and terror.”