Film, tape and digital video are all subsets of cinema, much like oils, acrylic, egg tempera, spraypaint and watercolor are all included under the heading of painting. Nevertheless, while sharing the predominant qualities of what we generically call “cinema,” each material has its own specific aesthetic materiality that is perhaps best revealed in the event of its own failure or deterioration. The video image becomes filled with horizontal lines of interference or static noise; digital images break down into smears of pixels and stuttering motion; similarly, film has its own special form of visual decay. In 1974, J.J. Murphy re-photographed the same minute of footage fifty times; the product of this experiment was Print Generation, a supremely structuralist work that plays at the cinema’s limits of abstraction and representation both on the level image and sound. Rarely screened and long available only in the most faded of 16mm prints, Print Generation is shown here in a new, immaculate restoration that brings the alchemical of play of Murphy’s film back to life. Print Generation is complemented by two other works that engage directly with the theme of generation and decay: the enigmatic Secret Garden by American filmmaker Phil Solomon, and Starlings, an early work by Austrian filmmaker/documentarian Karl Kels. Like the car dredged up from the marsh at the end of Hitchcock’s Psycho, these pieces put film’s materiality on display as a field of potentiality from which a figurative image, like the return of the repressed, may or may not emerge.
“The Secret Garden,” Phil Solomon, 1988, 16mm, color, silent, 23 mins.
“The Secret Garden is one of Solomon’s most exquisite films. As with Thornton and Klahr there is the shadow of a story here, one which deals with the passage from innocence and experience and invokes equally terror and ecstasy ….” (Tom Gunning)
“Starlings,” Karl Kels, 1991, 16mm, b&w, silent, 9 mins.
It is night. The moon is shining. A static camera captures a huge flock of starlings searching the sky in circular movements. It is not clear how long Kels had been standing there before he turned on his camera; the event as such can only have come as a surprise to him as well. At first the starlings are hard to identify. Having deliberately edited frames coming from different generations of the original print in a certain metrical order, without changing the actual chronology of their movement, Kels has the constantly changing shapes of the birds dissolve in the rough grain of the celluloid. Once again a technical weakness of the celluloid forms the starting point of his visual enterprise. Shot on one reel without any interruption, the birds’ flight gradually forms configurations of astonishing beauty. An immense sense of depth emerges as the starlings move against the background of the distanced moon, yet cross close by electric wires. Moths cannot resist the light and drop down just in front of the lens, and finally, also the starlings seem to take a last turn reaching down closer to Kels’ camera just before his reel ends.” (Millenium Film Journal)
“Print Generation,” J.J. Murphy, 1974, 16mm, color, sound, 50 mins.
The film begins with glimpses of a series of shimmering red points of light which, through succeeding generations, begin to reveal the definition of a figure or an object. The sparkling reds – actually the last vestige of light held by a tiny crystal of emulsion – transform into whites, then the shock of blue-green is discovered, separating next into blue and green and combining for secondary colors in what by now is a recognizable representation… Once the images are brought up to full color, the movie heads back toward abstraction. A viewer, having built a picture from an abstract pattern of dots, now must literally choose what is seen, whether to hold memory’s trace of the representation or swim into the dancing crystalline waters of emulsion. It’s a wonderful choice, a fine film.” (Anthony Bannon)