Here in Seoul the EX-is festival is on, and Marcella and I have attended some screenings. Seen 2 competition selections which, frankly, were better over all than those when I was a judge 2 years ago. Some interesting work, though once again I am appalled by how the self-described avant garde filmmaker seems to know for the most part only one trajectory: take an idea, a technique and shove it along faster and faster into a crescendo, come and stop. Bad filmmaking as it is bad sex. Been treated to far more than a handful of such films so far, usually taking some technical thing and pushing it along faster and faster and faster. Predictable as can be.
But there have been some good things. And was able to see now two programs of Abigail Child films, who is here on jury and showing I think all her work. First program we saw last night, and it had one very interesting and good film in it. The program was titled “Suburban Trilogy”, the first being a 1950’s oriented look at culture and how women are, well, used. It was done, as most her work, in a zappy snappy editing style that owes a fair bit to the recently deceased Bruce Conner. Machine gun bursts of single frames, archival footage flipped, looped, and otherwise womanhandled to make a point. Abigail’s use of this style is more calculated and intelligent than usual, so the machine gun bursts will repeat images, acting as musical motifs, shifting, but anchoring themselves back so you recall seeing an image previously – not so scattershot as is often the case. She makes a collage of archival (or in some cases her own shooting) material visually, and similarly she uses sound in a fragmented manner, with abrupt bursts, fake synch, music written by acquaintances for the work, and she is quite good at this – better than most those others I have seen. In the 2nd of the trilogy, the pace shifts, and some wonderful archival material in B&W shows a family, with two adolescent girls, from the 30’s to 40’s in some Germanic setting, and finally shifting to NYC. With this Child has made a fiction of a Nazi era family, inserting voices, texts, and in a very wonderful way making a convincing and emotional story of this well-shot material (clearly from well-off family). She weaves history personal and large together in a manner that evokes well the time, and provokes some deeper thoughts about what it was like to experience this time. The “fiction” is somehow clear, despite the documentary appearance, and it works to the benefit of the work. In this one Abigail’s pace is far less frenetic than in her other work, which also works for the better. The 3rd in the trilogy is about a New Jersey beach town, Deal, settled by Jewish folks from NYC, a second home place, and Abigail examins the shifting politics, social realities of the place in an engaging manner that over stays its welcome by a bit, and is a bit messy and unfocussed, if also fascinating. She says its unfinished and agreed with the critique it is messy and needs more spine, even if it is never boring – it just wanders a bit needlessly.
Few days later saw another selection of Abigail’s work, under the banner “Alternate Fictions” in which archival footage of varying kinds is sliced, diced, flipped, juxtaposed to alternate sounds, and otherwise tossed in a mixmaster (though not thoughtlessly, it is all done consciously) making for an assault by collage. One at a time they are fine; shown as a group they grate, being too similar in their aggressive tempos and formal/technical methods. Taken together they grind you down, and one blends into the next with little sense for why #1 stops and a title is interjected and #2 begins. They are a bit different, but not enough so to warrant the break. Seen back to back the devices used get too obvious, the pace too consistent, and the tone too monotone. She needs films by her friends Hutton, Dorsky as spacers, to shift the pace radically so her work seems a sharp rejoinder.
In a big very good cinema in the center of a city of 10 million the audiences have sprinkled the space, perhaps 30 people or so. EX-is does put up posters in universities, advertises a bit, but I guess the audience for such work is .000000000001 percent of the public. Or they are somehow making a mistake in their approach.
I did see another program of competition films and again, there were more interesting things than my time around as a judge. However so far no knock-out, mostly regurgitations of old avant garde tropes. One film started out real interesting and not a copy-cat thing, but then devolved into a stupid mess. Alas.