Usually, when I write these “randomised” posts, I use a random number generator to select three or four frames from a film; these then serve as starting points for a discussion of the film, hopefully from unexpected angles, focusing on the minutiae that reveal the broader concerns of the whole. See here for more examples. In this case, I’m using it as a way to still the torrent of Jeff Keen‘s two-minute collage film Cineblatz, and instead of using the number generator to tell me which minute from the film to examine in more detail, I have intermittently tapped the “framegrab” button to gather a gallery of stills from the film. You can click on any one of them at the bottom of this post, or see them, in sequence, in the slideshow at the top.
As I write this, I’m playing it on a loop, on the BFI’s superb Blu-Ray edition of Keen’s films. I’ve seen it dozens of times before, and I still see new things in it, and always remember them in a different order. There are twenty short animations, but they blur together in a stream of furious consciousness. This is not a frame-by-frame animation that moves objects and characters from keyframe A to keyframe B, but an accretive animation that progressively deteriorates or defaces or transforms its object. If there’s a temporal order to it, I haven’t found it yet. No images or motifs are given greater importance through their repetition or strategic placement in the sequence. Instead, we are given a deluge of collaged stuff, much of it in motion or disintegration.
Objects in the frame bristle and blister, fly and fall, jabber and ejaculate. Cut-outs from magazines and newspapers share the frame with toys, handwritten text, lightning bolts and the lowest (but surely one of the most ancient) form of graffiti, the cartoon cock. It all twitches past the eye at the carefully calibrated limit of what can be perceived and recognised on the screen, so that you can make everything out, even as you struggle to keep up with the stream of associations that might be produced if they were to be slowed down and viewed as a syntagmatic chain of sequential meanings.
There is much that I immediately loved, and continue to love, about this film. It has an instant impact with its colourful frenzy of pop-cultural detritus, defaced by Keen’s modifications – he scribbles, scrawls and paints over documents and photographs, melts dolls and dismembers toys. But this is not a damning artistic pose that decries the madnesses and excesses of popular culture even if, with its unassimilable pile-up of artifacts, it perfectly articulates something of its haste, neediness and disposability. It can also be seen as celebratory, brimming with enthusiastic energy, helpless to resist the sugar-rush of all those pictures, toys, icons and articles. It has flashes of the comic book about it, as if you’re flicking through the pages of a comics anthology and picking up a series of vibrant after-images in the process. Keen is known to collect the objects from his films from rubbish heaps and junk shops, giving them a second life on film, rescuing them from a slow fade into dusty or mulched oblivion. The handmade, homemade aesthetic is endlessly compelling, the powerful sense of a man and his things making beauty out of cultural shrapnel.
Because the film derives much of its kick from its machine-gun editing and rapid surge of imagery, there’s a possibility that picking out still images will kill it off, embalming its pieces in a numb stasis. But a quick glance at the detailed composition, the hand-crafted diligence and the sheer volume of work on show in Cineblatz makes it well worth a look at its component parts. This is not mixed media so much as compacted media, a veritable landfill of art, all hierarchies of style or registers of language collapsed into one ecstatic buzz.
Mouths and eyes abound, a visual index of image-consumption and noisy declamation. Pointed objects (lipstick, pens, rockets, pricks) jab into the frame, puncture heads. Lines squiggle across advertisements and diagrams like the best school-textbook-doodle you ever made. And it all repeats, repeats, repeats, but never with the same target. The beaming, vapid faces of catalogue models or handsome consumer-goods and lifestyle publicity stooges are most often subjected to Keen’s witty, mischievous vandalisms.A fanged mouth drawn cartoonishly over a cross-section of a human brain and cranium, cut out from a newspaper, laced with pink felt-tip, annotated with the emphatic label “TEETH” (as if it wasn’t bluntly obvious enough), and laid over an apocalyptic backdrop of crumbling, burned paper. A multimedia, multidirectional, destructive/reconstructive mash-up, a funny face drawn on a gravely scientific analysis whose illustrative purpose is diverted away from the inner workings of cognition to the hard sharp gnashers that aid the body’s ingestive, digestive, processes. Thought is sublimated to baser, more pressing needs, immediate pleasures and sensations throughout Cineblatz. Each piece can be pulled out for examination and subjected to similar analysis: help yourself to the gallery below for more of this rich, dense film.
Cineblatz is in that small category of films I think of as experimental cinema’s gateway drugs: along with the likes of Un Chien Andalou, Norman McLaren’s Begone Dull Care, Stan Brakhage’s Mothlight and Peter Tscherkassky’s Outer Space, it’s an excellent introductory experience for those unfamiliar with the far reaches of avant-garde filmmaking, and unsure of why they should care. They are all arresting and visceral enough to hold the attention even before they might require further analysis, and exist as enduring reminders of the inexhaustible possibilities of the medium. For Keen in particular, the film becomes a repository, a recycling bin for all other media.
[If you have other thoughts, or alternative readings of Cineblatz, the gallery images or other films by Jeff Keen, the comments section below is for you...]