Experimental Gothic – Part Two

Romantic Agonies

Curated by Seth Watter

"Experimental Gothic," designed and printed by Xander Marro

“Experimental Gothic,” designed and printed by Xander Marro

A cold dungeon crawling with vermin, statues or portraits endowed with a mysterious life, a ruined castle or estate, instruments of torture left over from the Inquisition, sadistic criminals marked by peculiar deformities, incestuous or forbidden desire and mad pacts with the forces of evil—these are the tropes we associate with Gothic fiction, and it is no secret that the classic tale of terror has provided some of the richest material for film narrative and aesthetics. What is perhaps less often remarked is the Gothic’s enduring presence in the world of experimental film, with all its possibilities of visual distortion and atmospheric intensity. The image of the monster is the most visible sign of horror, but in its very obviousness tends to mask the actual workings of desire and dread, the sensation of tunneling through an endless corridor, that cinema so vividly dramatizes.

A special event in two parts, Magic Lantern Cinema’s “Experimental Gothic” presents a series of short works that display the hallmarks of Gothic style, charting an underappreciated strain in the history of avant-garde cinema.  Night one will showcase the films of Peggy Ahwesh, and will take place at AS220’s Black Box Theater. The second program, “Romantic Agonies,” will screen at the Cable Car Cinema and will feature works by Andy Moore, Stan Brakhage, Lloyd Williams, Patrick Bokanowski, Kayla Parker, Mark Abramson, Sarah Pucill, and Larry Jordan.


October 30, 2013 • Cable Car Cinema & Café

Providence, RI • 8 PM • $5

Frights, blights, and things that go bump in the night. Films with the visual logic of a nightmare, fever dreams of desire and despair. Good to watch right before bedtime.

Histrionic Response Section, Andy Moore, 1983, 16mm, b&w/sound, 2 mins.
“I heard some old pipe organ music which suggested “desperate fear” to me, and I envisioned a relentless series of faces looking terrified, as if they were in a horror movie and had just seen some terrible monster. I had about 50 people do two things for the camera: act horrified, and act relaxed and blissful. The resulting footage was edited to conform to that particular piece of organ music which is heard on the soundtrack. At once terrifying and comical” (AM).

Desistfilm, Stan Brakhage, 1954, 16mm, b&w/sound, 7 mins.
“Internationally acclaimed as the classic of its genre. The camera joins a drunken adolescent party and participates in the expression of desire and frustration” (Canyon Cinema). “The best film in the 1950s; breathtaking camera work; entire cinematic conception and execution is brilliant” (Willard Maas).

Ursula, Lloyd Williams, 1962, 16mm, color/sound, 12 mins.
Gold Medallion, Best Scripted Film Cannes, Best Special Effects for Sustained Horror, 1961. “URSULA (based on the story ‘Miss Gentilbelle’ by Charles Beaumont) involves the mental decay of a small child at the hands of her domineering and cruel mother. The fact the child is presented to us as a young girl but is actually played by a little boy (Calvin Waters) really opens this up to multiple interpretations, whether that was intended or not… The mother (Dorothea Griffin) chastises her child for ripping her dress and doesn’t think she should be playing outside or getting dirty, and goes as far as killing her daughter/son’s pet bird. The child eventually either murders her mother or just fantasizes about doing so. Throughout, experimental techniques are used to illustrate the child’s inner turmoil; overlapping shots of trees, the house, the moon and water, as well as distorted or echoing voices” (The Bloody Pit of Horror).

A Woman Powdering Herself, Patrick Bokanowski, 1972, 16mm, b&w/sound, 18 mins.
“But whatever one wants to analyze or not analyze in this film, it is a work which disturbs one deeply… One notices these briefly passing creatures (one of which is, yes, a woman powdering herself) slowly and deliberately undertaking acts you don’t quite understand, but which are clearly of a ghastly nature (perhaps a murder?); one watches two ‘real’ characters suddenly change into ink spots while a bombardment of drawn or painted meteorites explodes on what might be the ‘earth'; one looks at somebody pouring coffee into a full cup which then overflows into an endlessly dark and ink-like trail; at which point you say to yourself that what is going on here, in this black and upsetting film, has the logic of a nightmare” (Dominique Noguez).

Looks Familiar, Kayla Parker, 1989, 16mm, color/sound, 3 mins.
“Playful choreography between the 16mm Bolex clockwork camera, the subjects it sees, and the looks it receives in response to its gaze: frames of kittens and cats, the flickering face of a Hallowe’en pumpkin, spooky ghosts, a dead badger, a faux fur stole, and flowers in people’s gardens, are edited, engraved and hand-tinted to a rhythmic psychedelic intensity, accompanied by improvised music recorded live to the projected film at Spacex art gallery in Exeter” (KP).

Shoot the Actor, Mark Abramson, 1967, 16mm, b&w/sound, 18 mins.
“The film begins in the cluttered apartment of an unemployed actor, We become familiar with his way of life and routine. As he carries out his daily tasks, he becomes aware of an unknown threat. We watch as a stranger follows him and makes his presence known in increasingly disturbing ways. The more the actor tries to elude the danger, the more persistent the stranger becomes. As the film progresses, we become involved in the horror-fantasy that is his constant companion. The stranger silently confronts him in the subway and in the streets; becomes a terrifying opponent in a fencing match and eventually traps him in this apartment…” (Film-makers Coop).

Swollen Stigma, Sarah Pucill, 1998, 16mm, color/sound, 21 mins.
“SWOLLEN STIGMA nourishes the fantasy of its protagonist’s inner life and proposes a lesbian imaginary which takes leap into risk and displacement. The film opens with an entranced seated woman working her fingers through a single strand of hair and proceeds to explore her lived imaginary in which desire and fear interlace. She re-visions different moments in time which are haunted by an absent lover. Like a playful fairy princess, this lover appears upside down in an armchair, hanging legs-down from the ceiling, playing dead on the floor, or eating roses; her body continuously permeates the woman’s reality. The film’s shifting points of view jump between the protagonist, fantasy spaces and her lover, making an internal world leak into what is external with the fluidity of blood into water” (SP).

Once Upon a Time, Larry Jordan, 1974, 16mm, color/sound, 12 mins.
“In many ways a more searching, and certainly a more complex film than OUR LADY OF THE SPHERE. We are first presented a cobweb castle, filled with the haunting doubts of the young protagonist. Spirits appear on the screen and are heard on the soundtrack. Gradually a female guide emerges and escorts the young man into an antechamber to another (and possibly higher) world” (LJ). “Pulsating lights, undulating objects, combined with a rich and full color sense” (Donald Miller, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).