Photo, Film, and the Avant-Garde Collide at This Weekend's PhotoFilm Series at YBCA


San Francisco is blessed–or cursed, depending on your view of things–this weekend with two very different showcases of classic film, moving along two surprisingly entwined pathways. The first, the San Francisco Silent Film festival, is a spectacular celebration of nostalgia which, though outstanding, is in the way of all nostalgia mostly expected. The second, YBCA and Goethe-Institut's PhotoFilm series, nurses a similar nostalgia for the great works of the experimental film avant-garde. While the "classics" of narrative film seem to be viewed again and again, standouts of this sort have a way of inspiring greatly, then fading gently into the past, relegated to the collections of art schools and film historians. Before your eyes glaze over, have a look at this:

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While it's interesting, art prose always sounds a little stiff to my ears, so I've dug up some clips to illustrate along the way. The one above is by artist Tim Macmillan, who pioneered the motion-stopping camera effect used in The Matrix back in the 90s in a couple of sentimental, breathtaking art films. The appealingly named method, Time Slicing, makes an appearance in Sunday's program The Plasticity of the Moment via Macmillan's Ferment, which should be more than enough to whet even the meanest appetite for this weekend's offerings.

Having begun last month at MoMA with the most famous of the form, including Chris Marker's La Jeteé of course, the excellent PhotoFilm series continues this weekend with five new programs full of intriguing film/photo hybrids, both classic and more recent. The Dancing Photo on Film program playing tonight is as a good an entry point as any into the sometimes flustering world of the PhotoFIlm, dedicated as it is to inspecting the way movement is created in film from photographs (pretty simple, right?). Amélie fans perk up–Marker celebrant Jean-Pierre Jeunet's No Rest for Billy Brakko finds its home here amongst some heavier fare including Ken Jacobs ominous Captalism: Child Labor.

"This film is an explanation for my photographic works. They ask me to explain the film. How can I? With a poem, with a sculpture, with a drawing? I can take a picture. Do I have to explain that picture?"

The confusion between the edges of photography and film and where they meet is a subject of constant inquiry in PhotoFilm. Although it's not included in the program, Paul de Nooijer's short Nobody Had Informed Me makes an apt introduction to the interplay between photography and film that the series aims to elucidate (and looks a bit like a Talking Heads video as an added bonus). Appearing in three of the programs including Saturday's The Photo Novel, de Nooijer is one of the ghosts shoring PhotoFilm's loose artography.
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Saturday's earlier program, The Filmic Photograph, hones in on the photograph itself as an artifact, reflecting on its existence, often in voice-over, to stretch, tease and worry ideas of time, as it exists on film and in the real world. Regarded avant-garde filmmaker Hollis Frampton (who shared a tenure in Buffalo, NY with experimentalist Paul Sharits, recently celebrated in a retro at Berkeley's PFA) emerges as a backbone for this investigation with his 1971 work, (nostalgia). The prolific Frampton recently received the Criterion treatment, which indicates that perhaps my pessimism about avant-garde film as an art lost to the casual viewer may have been a bit doom-y after all.

Shifting views in a more contemporary direction, Sunday's final program The Plasticity of the Moment investigates what the program catalog pointedly identifies as the modern obsession with capturing each moment from as many distinct angles as possible, using the photograph as an entry point for the inspection. You know, that Matrix thing, remember?

PhotoFilm plays this weekend at YBCA Screening Room, 701 Mission Street @ 3rd Street, 415-978-2787.

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