Friday, January 31, 2014

Ernie Gehr 2

DocPoint Vanishing Point, Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 31 Jan 2014.
Prints from Canyon Cinema and Ernie Gehr. Total duration 73 min
In the presence of Ernie Gehr, introduced by Sami van Ingen.

Sami van Ingen's programme notes: Ernie Gehr. “In representational films sometimes the image affirms its own presence as image, graphic entity, but most often it serves as vehicle to a photo-recorded event. Traditional and established avant-garde film teaches film to be an image, a representing. But film is a real thing and as a real thing it is not imitation. It does not reflect on life, it embodies the life of the mind. It is not a vehicle for ideas or portrayals of emotion outside of its own existence as emoted idea. Film is a variable intensity of light, an internal balance of time, a movement within a given space." Ernie Gehr, 1971

US 1991, colour, 16 mm, 41 min
Loc: Fairmont Hotel (San Francisco, CA).

Side/Walk/Shuttle reveals, through a camera smuggled into a view lift in San Francisco, the absurdity of architecture and questions the sense of skyscrapers while making you dizzy in the process.

“The initial inspiration for the film was an outdoor glass elevator and the visual, spatial and gravitational possibilities it presented me with. The work was also informed by an interest in panoramas, the urban landscape, as well as the topography of San Francisco. Finally, the shape and character of the work was tempered by reflections upon a lifetime of displacement, moving from place to place and haunted by recurring memories of other places I once passed through.” - Ernie Gehr

“Side/Walk/Shuttle traffics in dislocation of a different sort. Its conceit is simple and, in a sense, brilliantly obvious: twenty-five takes, each just shy of two minutes, shot at various angles out of the Fairmont Hotel’s glass elevator. More than San Francisco’s vectored topography, the film’s subject is the camera’s frame, whose orientation Gehr playfully permutes, turning it upside-down or canting it toward either side. As in Signal, Gehr is fascinated by the number of ways in which a site can present itself to his lens, its monocular view proving anything but an analog for everyday vision. Seeing, Gehr’s films reveal, is the sum of so many fragments, the camera less a nimble tool than an awkward prosthesis, everywhere announcing its presence.” - Courtney Fiske, Artforum

AA: A recreation of space, a reinvention of space. The glass elevator is a majestic camera crane. The vision of San Francisco might be compared with Vertigo (but only in the sense of studying vertigo); in one shot we get to see Coit Tower. And Fairmont Hotel, itself, is one of the locations of Vertigo. The effect is disorientation, as the camera is at times upside down, at times tilted sideways. The sky becomes the sea. The boom of the wind is awesome. A beautiful print.

US 2012, colour, HDCAM NTSC, 22 min

Departure puts the landscape, directions and perception onto new tracks.

“…it appears as though those specific concerns of duration, sync sound, and the confrontation with the common-place have remained on Gehr's mind. Departure seems to reflect an elaboration of these ideas in an even more deceptively simple direction. In fact, Departure's "direction" is about as simple as can be: right-to-left. Returning to the macro-organizational procedures of some of his best-known film works (Eureka and Side/Walk/Shuttle in particular), as well as the very birth of the film medium…The radiant blue sky is an undulating pool along the bottom of the screen, its topline wavering like a seismograph as brown colonial-style train stations and law offices jut into the foreground. In the central section, the recessed track provides a view of track and trackside gravel only, and so we understand at once that Gehr will be offering a kind of expanded colorfield work. But the sheer variety of colors and tones, the shifting sunlight and shadow, and the occasional intrusion of reflections from the train's interior, again provide far greater development over time than our prejudices ever allowed us to expect.” - Michael Sicinski

 “In Ernie Gehr’s films, light seems an absolute quality of the image. Light is in the image. This light is not merely the energy beamed from the projector, by which the film is seen; it is the energy streaming from Ernie Gehr’s lucid sensi-bility, by which virtue we see.” (Hollis Frampton)

AA: A study in perception: movement - space - time. The phantom ride was a popular genre in early cinema. Departure is a abstracted account of a train ride, arrival at a nocturnal city. I did not enjoy the digital quality of this piece, it was strenuous on the eye.

Auto-Collider XV
US 2011, colour, HDCAM NTSC, 10 min

The fifteenth work in the Auto-Collider series in which Gehr depicts traffic, movement and light as wave motion.

“The projected image resembles a Neo-Geo canvas, a high-sheen variant on old school color field work where in the stripes are pushing and pulling at the left and right of the image, often bumping one another with a white-hot glint (sunlight reflecting off fiberglass chassis). The sound is similarly collapsed, with distinct highway sounds pulsing out of the generalized roar... could Auto-Collider XV's narrowed vision be a formal correlative to the anxious passenger's nervous squint?” - Michael Sicinski

AA: A study on velocity, starkly reduced towards abstraction. There is a fierce, continuous movement like in Departure, but this time so accelerated that just the colour stripes remain visible, resembling an image of the spectrum. The yelling motors bring to mind Guantanamo torture. I seldom have headache, but from this assault on the eye I got one. I closed my eyes, but even it did not help, so I shielded my eyes with my hands. The merciless, denatured quality of the digital colour might have something to do with my stress reaction. Or maybe it was just having worked ten hours at the office without a real break.

All three films center on a moving vehicle: - an elevator (Side/Walk/Shuttle) - a train (Departure) - and a car (Auto-Collider XV).

After the screening there was a Q & A, and the first theme was film and digital (the theme opened by John Sundström and others). Ernie Gehr widened the theme not only to moving image culture (including the ancient tradition of - shadow plays - magic lanterns - and optical toys), but even wider, to his interest in creating phenomena without images. "I also do installation work".

Ernie also reminisced a Henri Langlois screening in New York of early cinema. He had brought with him a crate of hand-coloured nitrate prints, the handling and screening of which was absolutely banned. He showed them and exposed the miracle of luminous early nitrate film with a high silver content. The duplicates of the same films do not look at all the same; the luminosity is gone.

Sami van Ingen remarked on a common feature in the three films: Ernie Gehr keeps his camera stationary and lets the world do the choreography.

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