It hath returned, transfigured. A year ago the New York Underground Film Festival closed shop and left the city bereft of a major annual alternative to cinematic institutions like the New York Film Festival. But now Migrating Forms, an outgrowth organization of the NYUFF, carries the torch, once again providing a main stage for the latest experimental and outré freakouts with few other venues to call home.
Among the “names” (avant-garde heroes Owen Land, Bradley Eros, and Leslie Thornton are all accounted for) Pat O’Neill’sHorizontal Boundaries stands eerily out, matching scrolling, multi-layered images of industrial topography to a skipping soundtrack of noir dialogue and other paranoid sonic and visual textures. Lesser-known but no less impressive, Erika Vogt tampers with projection in Motor Post Motorband Disband, slicing up screens and leaving disseminated light without a reciprocal surface. Two projectors eventually create warring images of natural phenomena and shadowy mechanical geometries, making Vogt’s experience both dis- and fully illusioning.
The documentaries are less aggressive. Most notable is 7915 KM, by Our Daily Bread director Nikolaus Geyrhalter, which traces the path cut through Africa by the yearly Dakar Rally, opposing the ferocious speed of the world’s longest drag race with contemplative, static-shot landscapes and interviews of struggling peoples possessing histories otherwise viewed as a blur by road hogs rumbling across the terrain. Two surprising gems come from an oft overlooked genre: animation. The avant-garde has historically used animation for purposes of “abstraction,” but Erin Cosgrove’sWhat Manner of Person Art Thou? and Barry Doupé’sPonytail both illustrate epic narratives about fallen worlds with distinctly crude, “naïve” representational styles. What Manner has two righteous old world Christian farmers navigating stratified, Dantesque American folk art landscapes and unleashing their wrath upon a modern populace. The evil harvest they reap is a satirical allegory of vice, but also something foreboding and impossible to recuperate through irony, ending with an unsettling dance of death.
Ponytail melds Lynchian absurdity with a particularly German angst, indulging the clichés of primitive computer-generated movements and Macintosh SimpleText robot voices so relentlessly that its sex-haunted characters’ smeared, grotesque features succumb to the dread of being lost between realms. While I remain cautious of detecting a theme among a festival’s diverse offerings, it seems that from Forms’ most uninhibited entries (Jesse McLean’s hushed TV evangelist kaleidoscope The Eternal Quarter Inch) to its most careful (Michael Gitlin’s closing night The Earth is Young, a self-critical attempt to understand creationist science), something resembling religious or metaphysical fervor is palpably in the air.
April 15-19 at Anthology Film Archives
Correction: Jesse McLean's The Eternal Quarter Inch is not playing at Migrating Forms, though a different McLean short, Somewhere Only We Know, is.