Foreplays #9: Len Lye’s "N or Nw"

  • MUBI
Foreplays is a column that explores under-known short films by renowned directors. Len Lye's N or Nw (1938) is free to watch below.New Zealander Len Lye is known, above all, for his experimental short films—such as A Colour Box (1935), Colour Cry (1953), or Free Radicals (1958)—where he would work directly by drawing and painting on or manipulating the film strip in a variety of ways. But, throughout his prolific career, he also worked with classical animation, live-action film (including a series of war documentaries), as well as pieces that combined a number of these techniques. Lye’s incessant curiosity drove him to develop his interests in many different artistic fields: beyond drawing and painting, he took photographs and built kinetic sculptures, and he produced a large body of writing that covers different styles, forms, and genres. N or Nw (1937) is one of the four films Lye did for the
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Experimental Film Coalition: The Monthly Screenings

This is Part Two in a series about Chicago’s Experimental Film Coalition; and covers their screening series. You can read Part One here.

Formed in 1983, the Experimental Film Coalition started holding regular monthly screenings starting in 1984. The screenings brought to Chicago the work of independent, experimental filmmakers across the country, as well as screening local work.

Screenings were held at the Randolph Street Gallery, an alternative performance and exhibition space located at 756 N. Milwaukee Ave. The Gallery eventually closed down in 1998 and donated their archives to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; which exhibits some of the Coalition’s flyers on their website.

Below is a sample of screening information culled from those archives, listed in chronological order:


March 23

2 Razor Blades, dir. Paul Sharits

Make Me Psychic, dir. Sally Cruikshank

Unsere Afrikareise, dir. Peter Kubelka

Roslyn Romance, dir. Bruce Baillie

Musical Poster #1, dir. Len Lye

April 27

Rainbow Dance,
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Boundaries Overcome: An Interview with Manuela De Laborde

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Manuela De Laborde's short film As Without So Within, which has played at the Toronto International Film Festival, won the Grand Prix at Zagreb's 25 Fps Festival, competed for the Tiger at Rotterdam, and will next screen at New Directors/New Films, is an utterly remarkably, vividly calm work that blends sculpture and filmmaking into a cosmic exploration of physical material transformed by the flatness of the cinema screen. Using ingenious objects made by De Laborde that variously resemble moon rocks, bones, and additional unidentifiable shapes, and by filming them against black backgrounds, awash in precise colored lighting and at different scales, these strange pieces loom or are dwarfed, come into or go out of focus and perceptibility. Sometimes the film feels like a kind of astronomic research report, tactile and scientific in its observation, even seemingly scanning or plunging deep the molecular makeup of these evocatively recognizable, yet alien shapes.
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3D in the 21st Century. Baby, I'm Your Firework

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As an educator, I’m constantly cycling through the history of animation on a zoetrope hamster wheel, noting how each technical development re-investigates the same fundamental principles set forth by painting, literature, theatre, photography, or any method of communication and presentation. The constantly evolving modes of production in cinema foreshadowed our economy of planned obsolescence via a quest for re-perfection. As revealed by animation historians like Donald Crafton and Maureen Furniss, principles of Taylorism—standardized animation production methods spawning uniform products—governed industry practices. This model re-packages pre-existing modes/products with advances in technology. In this case: 3D is sound; 3D is color; 3D is analog/Sd/HD/2K/4K/6K/Xk video; 3D is IMAX; 3D is new media. I ask my students: have you ever noticed that life is actually in 3D? For me, an obscure and underground experimental animator, cinema is about learning or remembering how to see,
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Anti-Animator: A Conversation with Jodie Mack

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Above: New Fancy Foils

My new favorite filmmaker is the American animator Jodie Mack. In 2012 I was in the audience at the Views from the Avant-Garde sidebar of the New York Film Festival and had the unexpected experience of dropping my jaw and having it remain fully in that position throughout the surface loveliness and aggregating intensity—both analytic and sensual—of Mack's lace flicker film Point de Gaze. Its young filmmaker has been making films since 2003—several of which are viewable on her website—with a flurrying productivity which belays the painstaking efforts taken to bring her animated films to life. The screening was the revelation of incredible talent, a moving effort of hands and mind, and it promised a great deal for the future.

That promise had already paid off in spades at the 2014 International Film Festival Rotterdam in January, which presented a program of Mack's recent short films not as a profile,
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The Noteworthy: Dwan Dossier, Remembering Rooney, 100 French Films

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The full, 462 page English version of Allan Dwan: A Dossier, published by LUMIÈRE, edited by David Phelps and Gina Telaroli, and translated with Ted Fendt and Bill Krohn, is now online for free! Farran Nehme, the "Self-Styled Siren", has some lovely words on the recently departed Mickey Rooney:

"Few terms are crueler than has-been. A has-been is Norma Desmond rattling around an empty mansion. Avoiding strong light like a vampire, bitterly dishing old enemies to skeptical interviewers. So focused on looking back that you never move forward.

Mickey Rooney was never a true has-been in his life, not with 90 years of work. Shorts and features, A pictures and B pictures, star turns and character parts. Social dramas, musicals, an impressive run of noirs, comedies, Emmy awards, sitcoms, a hit Broadway show. The Siren spotted him in The Muppets in 2011 and heard a college-age woman whisper to her companion,
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Top 10 animated movies

Moving bits of paper around (the old way) or painting with billions of pixels (the new) has conjured up some of the greatest films of all time. From The Iron Giant to Persepolis, Guardian and Observer critics pick the 10 best

• Top 10 war movies

• Top 10 teen movies

• Top 10 superhero movies

• Top 10 westerns

• Top 10 documentaries

• Top 10 movie adaptations

• More Guardian and Observer critics' top 10s

10. The Tale of the Fox

A sneaky fox plays a series of underhand tricks on his neighbours in the animal kingdom, among them a timorous hare and a gullible wolf. The king of the beasts, a lion, summons him to face charges but the fox proceeds to outwit everyone, including the king himself. When Ladislas Starevich told this tale in the 1930s it was by no means new – versions of the Reynard story had been circulating around Europe for the best part of a millennium – but the
See full article at The Guardian - Film News »

Underground Film History 1958: U.S. Movies Win Prizes At Brussels

From the Oakland Tribune, Monday, April 28, 1958. Article text:

Brussels, Belgium, April 28: A New York art film director yesterday was awarded second prize in the international experimental film competition and four other Americans won lesser awards.

The $5,000 prize went to Len Lye, New York, for his film “Free Radicals.”

The $10,000 first prize went to Walerian Borowczyk and Jan Lenica for their Polish film “Dom” (House).

Hilary Harris, New York; Francis Thompson, New York; Stan Brakhage, Denver, Colo., and Kenneth Anger, a San Franciscan who lives in Paris won medals.

Nearly half of the 133 films entered were from the United States. There were some boos in the World’s Fair Auditorium when Belgian Interior Minister Pierre Vermeylen announced the results. An international jury studied the films for a week before deciding.

Underground Film Journal notes: This was the 2nd edition of the Brussels Experimental Film Festival.

The film for which Kenneth Anger
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Tiff 2013. Wavelengths Experimental Films – The Shorts and the Mediums

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Nb: Films by Robert Beavers, Peter Hutton, and Luther Price were unavailable for preview. However, I said some very nice things about these men and their work in general over at The Dissolve.

In years past, I have attempted to present this extended article as a preview; my aim has been to send it off into the world either the day before of the day of Tiff's kick-off. That has proven impossible this year, and, dear reader, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee... But the fact that Wavelengths is a beat that is becoming harder and harder for one person to adequately cover is undoubtedly a sign of good health. Since last year, when Tiff enfolded the former Visions section (a space for formally adventurous narrative features) into Wavelengths (Tiff's experimental showcase), not only has interest in the section grown exponentially. The section can now more fully reflect
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MoveTube: there's a pot of gold at the end of this Rainbow Dance

Len Lye's deliriously jazzy 1930s animation for the Post Office Savings Bank shows public information films needn't be dull

Reading this on mobile? Click here to view

The colours might look late-60s-psychedelic; some of the interaction between graphics and the human figure (at approx 1.40, for example) seems comparable with the experiments made by contemporary digital artists such as Klaus Obermaier. But this short animation, Rainbow Dance, was actually created back in 1936 as an advert for the Post Office Savings Bank. Between 1933 and 1940 the Gpo (now the Royal Mail) ran a film unit which produced dozens of short public-information films. The most famous was Night Mail with music by Benjamin Britten and words by Wh Auden, but while that was a classic black-and-white vision of Britain, avant-garde mainly in its combination of music and poetry, Len Lye's Rainbow Dance was one of several extravagantly experimental animations on which
See full article at The Guardian - Film News »

Tiff 2012. Wavelengths Preview: Part One - The Shorts

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September is here again, and it's time to delve into the cinematic bounty of the Wavelengths section of the Toronto International Film Festival, that rambunctious and idiosyncratic corner of the Reitman Machine largely cordoned off from commercial concerns and set aside for lovely and sometimes difficult film art. Despite the ever-changing profile of Tiff, stalwart programmer Andréa Picard has [cue needle-scratching-record sound] What? Yes, last year at this time, the avant-garde community thought we were seeing Ms. Picard leaving this position behind. Fortunately for us all, Tiff won her back.

And this is where things get interesting. Starting with this 2012 edition of the festival, the Wavelengths section is a much more broadly based, festival-wide category. In essence, it now subsumes the old Visions designation, which was Tiff’s home for formally challenging, feature-length arthouse fare. This merger, which may seem like a bit of a shotgun wedding to some, does in fact make sense.
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Underground Film Links: November 20, 2011

Wow, the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis gave a really incredible write-up on Ernie Gehr and his films, and includes a lovely slideshow of film stills. (Isn’t Serene Velocity one of the best names for a movie ever?)Superstar blogger Mark Evanier has been writing obsessively about the Lambeth Walk song for the past week or so. One of those posts, though, was all about the classic Len Lye experimental film using that music.Jonas Mekas has a new documentary, entitled My Mars Bar Movie — about an actual bar in NYC, not the candy bar — which opened the first ever Greenpoint Film Festival. The Local East Village website has a write up on the film and the screening.By the way: Did you know the “real” Jonas Mekas is now putting his videos on YouTube? I didn’t, but he is.Rick Trembles gives Peter Watkins’ controversial, Academy Award
See full article at Underground Film Journal »

Wavelengths 2011. Notes from a Dark Room

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As has been noted many times before, by me and others, the Wavelengths series of the Toronto International Film Festival is like a festival unto itself. So far removed from the red carpet nonsense, the deal-making, and the me-firstism of web journalists hoping to hit the Web with their initial impressions of some new Bryce Dallas Howard vehicle, Wavelengths affords breathing room to cinema and video at its most formally adventurous and, yes, uncommercial. We come here to look and listen, not to look “at” or listen “to,” and if that sounds hopelessly pretentious, come on down to the Jackman Hall and see for yourself. It’s actually quite cleansing, often funny, and a guaranteed good time, at least in part. (Short films are like the weather in my hometown of Houston, Texas. Don’t like it? Wait a moment. It’ll change.)

Sadly, Wavelengths 2011 will be the final year for series curator Andréa Picard.
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2011 Sydney Underground Film Festival: Official Lineup

For their 5th annual event, which is set to run Sept. 8-11, the Sydney Underground Film Festival is looking a little more demented than ever. And that’s saying a lot for this scrappy, still relatively young fest, which typically offers ample twisted cinematic offerings.

The fun kicks off with the Opening Night film, the demented superhero comedy Super, written and directed by former Troma go-to screenwriter James Gunn (Tromeo & Juliet); then ends with the Closing Night wallowing in Sydney’s seedy underbelly, X, by homegrown filmmaker Jon Hewitt.

Crammed between these two excursions into violence and depravity is a lineup filled with perverse visions, scandalous public figures, sickening horror, experimental pop culture remixes and more.

For Bad Lit: The Journal of Underground Film, the highlight of the fest is Usama Alshaibi‘s Profane, a complex psychological, psychosexual, spiritual morality play about a Muslim sex worker who endures a “reverse
See full article at Underground Film Journal »

Talent Campus: Keeping It Reel: Interview With Dana Shaw

Whereas Dominic Mercurio expressed his respect by listening to offered advice, Art Institute of California senior graduate Dana Shaw caught my attention for his intelligent and respectful profiles of Bay Area creative personalities, including tattoo artist George Campise, artist Greg Gossel, animator Len Lye, sculptor Aj Fosik, and chefs Laurence Jossel, Tanya Holland and Martin Yan (projects available for viewing on Shaw's website). His intuitive sense of the value of artistry's social weave and his ability to spotlight the creativity of others as a form of creative self-expression spoke to me as a film journalist who consciously situates his own voice through and within the voices of others. For me, the weave is everything....
See full article at Screen Anarchy »

All things Brighton beautiful

Experiments in the British seaside town were among the most significant early attempts to bring colour to the film industry

The first thing you see on entering Capturing Colour is Loïe Fuller, or one of her imitators, performing the "Serpentine Dance" on the earliest kind of colour film, hand-tinted frame by frame. Fuller's act, which involved her whirling her silky costume about the stage of the Folies-Bergère with arms and sticks, while bathed in multi-coloured light, transfixed the poets, painters, and sculptors of fin-de-siècle Europe, who saw in the dance a return to the primitive and intuitive, a manifestation of "Art, nameless, radiant", as one of them had it.

Though the film is, conventionally speaking, a relic, the very unnaturalness of the colourist's splotchy handiwork is, speaking otherwise, true to Fuller's literary reputation, taking us a shade closer towards understanding what Mallarmé, intoxicated by her "limelit phantasmagoria", meant by "the
See full article at The Guardian - Film News »

The Moments of 2010

  • IFC
The Moments of 2010
Moving Image Source has made an annual tradition of gathering from their contributors, but also artists, writers and others, their pick for the "moving image moment or event" of the year. What makes this list so interesting is that it ranges far past just the movies, to include videos on the web, TV shows, news footage and more, from critics and from creators. The whole thing is worth perusing, but here's a sampling:

Dan Streible, director of The Orphan Film Symposium

Nothing was more compelling than the latest season of the HBO series In Treatment, in which psychotherapist Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne) begins his own talk therapy with a young new doctor (Amy Ryan). She nails him on all of his rationalizations and offers devastating insights into his psyche and his practice. Their verbal duels are sharply written and Byrne, who must carry every episode, creates one of the deepest,
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One+One 5th Issue Launch & Panel Discussion

One+One Filmmakers Journal is a Brighton, U.K. based publication that was founded back in May 2009. Issue #5 is about to be launched, so to celebrate the occasion there will be a panel discussion and short film screening at the Cine-City: The Brighton Film Festival on Nov. 28 at 4:30 p.m. at the Sallis Benney Theatre. This is a free and open event.

Daniel Fawcett, a filmmaker and the founder of One+One, will participate on the panel and screen clips from Dirt, his second feature film. One of Fawcett’s stated goals is to further remove cinema from its relationship with money. He has committed One+One to being a free publication, available to read both on the web and in print.

Also, in the first edition of his journal, Fawcett wrote an editorial announcing his refusal to work in the traditional film industry to fund his own personal
See full article at Underground Film Journal »

2010 Festival du Nouveau Cinema Fnc Lab: Official Lineup

The 39th annual Festival du Nouveau Cinema is set to run in Montreal on Oct 13-24. But, within the overall, massive festival is the Fnc Lab, the avant-garde and experimental section that will be having screenings and live film performances every night on Oct. 14-22.

This year, the Fnc Lab is showcasing two retrospectives; plus, a short film program of strictly 16mm films, films from the Korean Jeonju Digital Project, four feature-length projects and several special one-of-a-kind performances.

The retrospectives are of two key American women experimental filmmakers. First, in conjunction with the Double Negative Collective, the fest presents a career overview of Chick Strand, the eminent ethnographic filmmaker who sadly passed away last year at the age of 77.

Then, there’s also a retrospective of playful avant-garde filmmaker Marie Losier, who is well known for her collaborations with and film portraits of key underground figures like George Kuchar, Tony Conrad and Genesis P-Orridge.
See full article at Underground Film Journal »

Underground Film Timeline: Phase 1 Complete

Announced somewhat prematurely a couple weeks ago, Bad Lit’s Underground Film Timeline has reached the end of its first phase, which involved inputting all of the significant events, films and filmmakers in underground film history culled from Sheldon Renan’s An Introduction to the American Underground Film.

Despite Renan’s title, he does cover the early European avant-garde, so many filmmakers from England, France, Germany, Holland and Russia — such as Oskar Fischinger, Luis Buñuel, Marcel Duchamp, Len Lye, Joris Ivens, Dziga Vertov — appear alongside the usual U.S. suspects, such as Kenneth Anger, Jonas Mekas, Stan Brakhage, Shirley Clarke, etc.

Actual events are few and far between, but they’re there if you dig around, like the meeting of the International Congress of Independent Film and its swift disbanding; and the formation of the New American Cinema Group. One thing that Renan included a lot of that I like
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