Tonight at Long Island City’s Attic Studios, Cinema 16, a regular series pairing experimental film with live music, holds its December event, featuring Soft Circle playing new scores for films by Marie Menken (1957’s Glimpse of the Garden, pictured) and others. We had some questions for Molly Surno, a photographer and the curator of this peripatetic multimedia event.
Why did you feel like Amos Vogel‘s legendary postwar underground film society was the right namesake for your series?
When arriving in New York I was really hoping to stumble upon an avant-garde community that I fantasized about before moving here from California five years ago. Warhol’s factory, Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe in East Village, and of course Cinema 16 were all swimming through my mind upon my arrival. While there was a lot of energy and ambition, I didn’t sense the same formation of community. Naturally I was new to the city and these things take time but I decided to make an homage to the history’s underground art/film history in an attempt to create a new, alive, and contemporary gathering space of creative people.
As a curator of the film selection, what are you looking for in putting together a program? And what’s the thread between the Marie Menken, John Whitney and Bruce Bickford films you’re showing on Friday?
My curatorial style varies for program to program and of course depending on the musician. That is what is so exhilarating and challenging about the series. Oftentimes I base a compilation of disparate films on a concept or theme like witchcraft/folklore, or landscapes of the West, etc. I am also very conscious of the season that I am programming in as the space where the films are showing, as well (since it’s never a conventional movie theater). These components are all taken into account.
I programmed this series while I was in California and very inspired by the psychedelic tradition of cinema as well as cinema based on blossoming, blooming, and evolving motion. I know that the morale is somewhat low in New York’s winter so I wanted to show something spring-like and renewing.
Have the films been accessible, or has it been a struggle to find good prints to screen?
Luckily there are some international distribution houses around the globe that have dedicated their lives to preservation. Only on one or two occasions has it been impossible to find a print.
Tell me about Soft Circle, who’ve composed and are playing the score for the films. What do you look for in the musical accompaniment?
Black Dice and Soft Circle are household names in Brooklyn, but it wasn’t until I went to see a ballet at the MoMa that I saw Soft Circle play. Hisham and Ben put the audience in somewhat of a trance and the entire performance I was thinking how perfect they would be for Cinema 16.
When I listen to music for scores I never think in songs or structures of a tune. I am listening to the instrumentation and the fragments of sound. This helps me envision how I can pair a series of films to a particular musician.