"The Hubley Studio Show"
Recoder's performances typically take place in small cinematheques, where often the projectors are right out on the floor with the audience. His disappearance into the booth added even more of a how'd-he-do-that spin to his elaborate and cunning trick films, which he'll be presenting again at Pratt this week.
In "Magenta," Recoder threads an old, scratchy first-aid instructional movie through the same projector twice, so that the silent film is superimposed upon itself with slight temporal lag. On a second projector, he does the same time-delay trick with another film, but plays only the soundtrack, an easy-listening version of a Pachelbel tune. The resulting combination forms an exquisite, balletic diplopia. Two slightly different images of a gauze bandage rolling around an injured wrist are transformed from mere textbook sparseness into a spectral Baroque mandala.
Similar double-vision spectacles are crafted from a cheapo 60s western in "Ballad of..." and black-and-white sports newsreel footage in "Moebius Strip." In these projections, a more anarchic mix of images creates an odd and disconcerting sense of scale. At one point in "The Ballad of...," a frontier couple appears to roll around in miniature form on a dining room table. In "Moebius Strip," tiny hockey players are battered about by their own gigantic doppelgangers.
Although not all of Recoder's work involves such intense real-time mechanical legerdemain, they're all crafted with some level of unconventional trickery. "Paper Print" was created by xeroxing the film print of an old discarded documentary onto regular office paper, cutting out the images and meticulously pasting them onto clear leader with doublestick tape, then tearing the paper off, leaving a splotchy ink ghost. When projected, the footage appears deteriorated by some unknown process that seems at once organic and electronic. What's more astounding is the optical soundtrack, which actually plays, albeit within a heavy haze of Edisonian aural static. The tone and timbre of the boring male narrator comes through clear, though the individual words are completely inaudible.
At his most coy, Recoder verges on the poker-faced peekaboo antics of conceptual art and Fluxfilm. He created "1977 Leader" by cutting out all the clear portions of an old, dust-covered reel of editing slug and splicing them together in sequence. The audience thus watches about 10 minutes of dust, scratches and hairs. The sounds of static reach a subtle crescendo before each splice.
Similarly simple and semiautomatic but far more compelling are his three light-flare films, a series called "Available Light," made without a camera by exposing raw color stock under slightly different conditions. The results are like sensuously pulsating color-field paintings with differing intensities of yellow, orange and red. For the most impressive and beautiful piece, Recoder turns the projector on its side, creating a tall window through which billowy pomegranate shapes float and flutter across a shifting horizon.
Recoder is a soft-spoken but articulate twentysomething with an air of happening nerdiness, dressed in spiffy thriftstore mod and sporting a healthy East Bay tan. In conversation, he refers frequently to the legacies of earlier experimental auteurs and couches the way he speaks of his own work in the polite institutional shoptalk of academic smarty-pantisms. But despite his controlled demeanor, there's an undeniable spark of generational rebellion in his work. Like a number of his contemporaries, he combines the formal elegance of traditional avant-garde concerns with the do-it-yourself shenanigans of underground film and the implicitly nostalgic flea-market esthetic of postslacker culture.
An experimenter in celluloid's End Times, Recoder revels in playing with the technology of 16-mm projection with the loving gusto only a fellow member of the last pre-VCR generation could muster. At the beginning of the century, the most adventurous filmmakers positioned themselves at the vanguard of the newest developments in cinema. At century's end, the avant-kids have fallen back on sensual aleatory nihilism, eschewing revolutionary grandiosity in order to tinker and toy with smart retro grooviness.
Recoder presents "Ciné-Povera" twice this week. First at the Pratt Insitute's Wednesday Night Film Series this Weds., Dec. 8, at 8:30. Admission is free (Enginering Bldg, Room 371, Dekalb Ave., betw. Hall & Classon Sts., Brooklyn, 718-636-3422). Then at the "Vertigo! Go! 2000: A DJ/Video/Film benefit for WFMU and Smack Mellon" on Sat., Dec. 11. Tickets are $10 (Smack Mellon Studios, 56 Water St., Brooklyn, for info. call 201-521-1416 x230).
Groovy retro kiddie-flicks of a more literal sort are offered up at the Quad starting this Fri., Dec. 10, with a weeklong tribute to indie animation legends the Hubley family. Parents John and Faith created The Hubley Studio in New York in the mid-50s, producing a mixture of innovative personal animation with tv commercials and other commissioned work. Like a cartoony Cassavetes clan, the whole family got involved in production. Sons Mark and Ray and daughters Emily and Georgia provided dialogue for films and later helped with the animation process.
John and Faith's joint films from the 50s, 60s and 70s fall into two related camps. One group are dreamlike flights of childhood make-believe based around their kids' kooky improvised dialogue. In Moonbird (1959) their two sons chatter on about a hunt for a magical bird, and the parents' animation keeps step with their fanciful banter in colorfully blobby bebop sprightliness against a dark nighttime background. Their daughters gurgle and giggle through later films like Cockaboody (1973) and Windy Day (1969), creating more crazy preteen surrealism.
Other films had a more socially relevant, adult spin. In The Hole (1963) Dizzy Gillespie and actor George Matthews provided improvised dialogue as two construction workers. A number of Hubley works were created by basing animation around improvised music from contemporary jazz musicians like Gillespie, Benny Carter and Ella Fitzgerald.
If the earlier Hubley films evoke the fairytale splotiness of Chagall, Faith's later solo work is reminiscent of the clean neoprimitive surrealism of Klee and Miro. Taking on topics like the myths of Native Australia in Cloudland (1993) and human artistic beginnings in Africa (1998), Faith's work has a whimsical, new-agey jitterbug quality that verges further onto formal abstraction. Rounding out the series are a couple of films by daughter Emily, including Pigeon Within (1999), a cut-and-paste inner journey with a soundtrack by her sister Georgia and Ira Kaplan, both of Yo La Tengo. While some of the longer Hubley works may try the patience of your inner child, the earlier work of John and Faith are classic gems, and the series as a whole feels like a funky family reunion.
The Hubley films are at the Quad Cinema starting Fri., Dec. 10.
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