Curator Chris Kennedy brings a contemplative program of Super 8 films
from an international roster of artists to the Theatre Centre this Thursday, April 9th at 11 pm. I recently spoke to him via email about his thoughts on the program and what makes the anachronistic medium ripe for rediscovery.
Jason Halprin, Mylar Balloon Ripoff, 2007, still
Gabby Moser: What was the inspiration behind “Super 8 Late”?
Chris Kennedy: The program grew out of the discovery of the film work of Steve Polta, who has been making a series of Super 8 films in the San Francisco Bay Area for the last twenty years. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s better known as a programmer and archivist for the San Francisco Cinematheque, but he has a body of film work that is rather remarkable, if underseen (not an uncommon phenomenon). I wanted to bring a few of his films to Toronto and frame it with work by other filmmakers with a similar sensibilityÃ¢â‚¬â€filmmakers who use the Super 8 medium in a way that transcends its stereotype as a quick’n'dirty, nostalgic, home-movie medium. The pitch to Images hearkens back to a series of casual Ã¢â‚¬Å“Super 8 LateÃ¢â‚¬Â programs that Scott Berry and I did during the 2005/2006 festivals in the back room of the Cameron House. We wanted to highlight the particular qualities of small-gauge film making based on what we knew to be a vast and under-sampled medium. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s such a rich format that is overlooked because of the difficulties of showing it and the fact that its almost impossible to make a print, so most films have only a single existent original version.
GM: How does sound, or the lack of sound and music in many of these works, affect the viewer’s experience of these Super 8 films?
CK: Silent films often draw the most complaints from viewers. They are often considered harder to deal with than sound films. Part of that comes from the way sound is often used as a guide-track to rhythmically propel people through a piece or to let people know how to feel about what they are seeing. Steve PoltaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sound film, Arrival (1997a), is a bit different in that it is more of a soundtrack concrÃƒÂ¨teÃ¢â‚¬â€it almost takes a physical form in order to counter the weightlessness of the light that we see on screen. The image is comprised mainly of reflected light down a subway corridor. It’s very ephemeral and his soundtrack creates the substance that forms the experience of the film.
Most of the other films are silent. For Karen JohannessenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Light Speed, the image is itself a piece of music, filled with polyrhythms, counterpoint and melody. Sound would be completely unnecessary. For Steve PoltaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s A House Full of Dust, I think the silence mirrors the sound of presence and thought. Much like reading a letter from a friend where our voice overlaps with theirs, we experience the sound of his presence by a juxtaposition of the sound of ours. I expect the “Super 8 Late” screening will be relaxed and festive, though, like they were a few years back, with the excitement of collective attention. The projectors will be in the space so it wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be completely silent, for those afraid of such things.
GM: Many of the pieces in the program focus on documenting in-between places and moments or non-events in daily life, like FranÃƒÂ§ois BouÃƒÂ©’s Aufhebung film of movers carrying crates up a staircase or Takehiro Nakamura’s study of his neighbourhood through the lens of a crystal glass apple. To me, they seem contemplative and very personal in comparison to some of the structural and narrative films that have been screened throughout the festival and I was wondering if you could comment on that approach to the material. Do you think this approach to subject matter can be linked to these artists’ interest in the anachronistic medium of Super 8?
CK: IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be a bit catty and say that one of the things that drew me to these films is their evasion of the idea of Ã¢â‚¬Å“subject matterÃ¢â‚¬Â. What could you say the Ã¢â‚¬Å“subjectÃ¢â‚¬Â of Philippe CoteÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s film is, for example? Is it Mount Blanc, is it the chalet where he was staying, the tourists walking over the glaciers, the wind, the clouds? You could say thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s perhaps what you see in the film: it captures these images through a beautiful layer of grain and often in time-lapse. But the film isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t about Ã¢â‚¬Å“subject matterÃ¢â‚¬Â. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more an expression of subjectivity, of an unique, intimate aesthetic sensibility that has a particular relation to rhythm & gesture and time. In his particular case, the image opens out in a rather large, magnificent way. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s very much experiential.
GM: You mention in your program notes that Super 8 film remains one of the more intimate moving image mediums because of its small scale and legacy as a method for making home movies. How does that notion of intimacy relate to or appear in the works you’ve chosen for the program?
CK: In a film like Steve PoltaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s A House Full of Dust (the title is more a statement of place than of Ã¢â‚¬Å“subjectÃ¢â‚¬Â), the focus on details creates that contemplative and personal intimacy that you speak of. I do think the immediacy of their work is due to their use of the smaller Super 8 format. There is less mediation between their actions and what you see. The lightweight quality of the camera allows for their gestures to be directly translated. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a reminder that personal film making is as much about the body as it is about the eye (as further proof: the camera is seldom on a tripod and never on a crane). The immediacy of experience and everyday events (which was ritualized in the family basement when Super 8 was a home-movie format) is very much a part of how these films were madeÃ¢â‚¬â€the discovery of a group of movers next door or the fascination with the way the morning light falls through the blinds. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m very much looking forward to seeing these films again.