April 30-June 6 at MoMA
It's been a decade now since Creative Capital began dolling out cash and bolstering the careers of under-recognized artists. To celebrate ten years strong of this most commendable, damn-near peerless enterprise, MoMA is presenting a month-long series dedicated to C.C.-funded filmmakers. Fete-worthy as such an anniversary may be, one bundle of films from the characteristically inclusive 37-title series befits a more specific rubric: the best experimental work of the decade—or at least a bunch of it.
While Migrating Forms kicks off the next ten years of avant-advances downtown, MoMA's program provides an opportunity to catch up on some strange trips you may've missed, and here—appropriately enough for a decade retrospective—meta-histories reign supreme. Robert Smithson wrote "I am convinced that the future is lost somewhere in the dumps of the non-historical past" and the C.C. series serves up treasures aplenty scavenged from the dustbin.
Assembled from exhumed archival footage in mid-rot, Bill Morrison's Decasia is 70-minute torrent of sound and image disintegrating from within. The film is a miasma of churning nitrocellulose: images rupture and spasm in the throes of a transubstantiation to primordial cinematic ooze, conjuring a rapt glimpse of the thresholds between form and flux.
Also trolling the dumps of non-history is Daylight Moon, a masterpiece from the eminent collagist of cultural detritus, Lewis Klahr, while yet another found footage epic comes straight from the dystopic future-world: Spectres of The Spectrum. A baroque bricolage from the mad scientist of 'cinema povera' Craig Baldwin, Spectres warps industrial films and forgotten TV oddities into a millennial mayday transmission. It's a kind of half-remembered jet-age nightmare, a wild-eyed history of electromagnetic mind control, ionospheric conspiracy, and occult agents harnessing the power of the "giant radio" that is planet Earth—a feverishly fun paranoiac history of the 20th century, the facts of which are even more incredible than the fictions.
The mystical forces pulling the strings remain hidden in Bill Brown's Mountain State, a droll but supremely earnest portrait of West Virginia's "mini Bermuda Triangle"—the quaint tri-county area home to the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln's mother, the first iron blast furnace west of the Alleghany, and a sordid history of ritual murder, haunted burial grounds, and visitations from a giant Mothman. Brown's 16mm Americana is a catalog of roadsides and rest stops where these phantasmagorias never materialize, a wonder-wander in search of fragments of the cosmic in quotidian historic markers and placards.
Jem Cohen's Chain is a travelogue from a placeless land—a film loosely woven around the monologues of two women (a young hitchhiker and a corporate emissary from Japan) adrift in the "floating world" of ubiquitous office buildings, strip malls, and consumer-scapes that make most everywhere utterly indistinguishable from anywhere. Cohen taps into a restrained and sustained lyricism amidst the dull glaze and 24-hour drone of the land of homogenized milk and honey.
In Stranger Comes to Town, Jacqueline Goss too parses the plight of the traveler, offering first-person accounts from people siphoned through Homeland Security's processing protocols upon entering the US. Each testimonial is relayed by rogue avatar from World of Warcraft, and Goss inserts glacial sequences of virtual geographies throughout, sculpting a discomfited meditation on identities met with calculated incredulity.
Noami Uman's Ukrainian Time Machine is a blissed-out repatriation of the senses—a four part relearning of loveliness and loss in the homeland of Uman's forebears. The incomparable, always revelatory Phil Solomon posts an entry with Psalm III: Night of the Meek, a wrought evocation of Kristallnacht whose blistering, chemically contorted recycled footage makes Decasia look pristine.
Finally, Sharon Lockhart's Pine Flat revisits Eden in the form of the Sierra Nevadas. The piece is built from twelve static, ten-minute shots of local children contently ambling in florid glens and groves. Zephyrs, creeks, and soft drizzle carve paths of gentle, sweeping motion, each amplified by the film's lush and measured sound design. Far from a simplistic song of innocence, Lockhart suffuses the figures and the landscape, until they seem so attuned that we may not have noticed either one without the other. Each shot becomes a cosmology—a world swaddled in the total time of Lockhart's composition.