Picture of the Week #79: Gallery 1988’s Crazy 4 Cult Show

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Gallery 1988 was opened in Los Angeles in 2004 by Katie Cromwell and Jensen Karp. Since then, it has built up an avid following for its annual Crazy 4 Cult exhibition of work by new artists focused on popular cinema. Many of the ‘cult films’ beloved of the shows contributors are comedies and fantasies and fantasy comedies from the late 80s and early 90s: there’s a lingering love for Tim Burton, Back to the Future, The Goonies, the Evil Dead sequels, Pee Wee Herman, Donnie Darko and The Big Lebowski. Colourful and accessible, perhaps their attraction is that they treat with nostalgic, loving care the movies that mattered during the childhood and adolescence of the gallery’s target demographic, movies that were themselves often reverently referential to their predecessors. Here’s a sample of recent exhibits [Click on any image for a larger view]:


Picture of the Week #70: Krassimir Terziev’s Double King Kong

These two paintings come from Bulgarian artist Krassimir Terziev‘s ‘Missing Scenes’ series. His work often reconsiders and appropriates the history of cinema, as in Double King Kong (2007), which collapses the temporal gap between Kong’s 1933 and 1976 imaginings, to show the big ape doomed to repeat the same tragic ending against the backdrop of an indifferent city. The Fall of King Kong (2007, below) is, hopefully, self-explanatory and poignant:

Painting On Film: A (Mis)Understanding of the Abstract

[This a guest post by one of my undergraduate students, Olly Beaton. There will be several more to come this week. The assignment was to produce screening notes to accompany a small collection of films connected by one of the topics from the module. Comments and feedback below would be most welcome.]

One of the emerging experimental techniques of avant-garde films of the postwar period involved directors etching directly onto film rather than using a camera. This concept was heavily influenced by the rise of abstract expressionism in western art, notably through artists such as Jackson Pollock and Wassily Kandinsky. Their paintings often offered no clear representation of anything, and demanded that spectators searched the images to find their own meanings. Likewise, these films neither followed a narrative structure, nor contained any characters, and often lasted less than a minute. Through analysing Norman McLaren’s Begone Dull Care (1949), Stan Brakhage’s Rage Net (1988) and Brakhage’s Eye Myth (1967), we can begin to appreciate the purpose of such films, even if it will prove impossible to draw any conclusive understanding of them.

Continue reading

Picture of the Week #49: “But What I Really Want to Do is Paint…”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A while ago I posted some paintings by film directors. To cut a(n already not very) long story short, here are some more. See if you can guess who painted the the pictures in this post without looking at the captions. Match the pictures to the directors who created them: Alfred Hitchcock, Satyajit Ray, Jan Svankmajer, Peter Greenaway, Dennis Hopper, Jean Cocteau, Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, John Huston, Josef von Sternberg, Mike Figgis and Sergei Eisenstein. Some are more obvious than others.

These are selections taken from Karl French, Art by Film Directors (London: Mitchell Beazley, 2004)

Picture of the Week #17: Film-makers who Paint

The discovery that Anthony Hopkins has been working away at some figurative paintings (see image above) inspired me to dedicate Picture of the Week to film-makers who also paint. And I wonder if you, dear reader, can work out which is which. You’ll find paintings by Sylvester Stallone, Akira Kurosawa, David Lynch, Takeshi Kitano, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Tim Burton, and Derek Jarman below (or after the break). Rolling your mouse over the image (in some cases you can click for a larger view) will reveal the name of the artist. And if you know of any more film-makers, actors and the like who have a portfolio of paintings I can add to this little gallery, please let me know and I’ll build up a collection.

Click to see more…

Picture of the Week #12: Ed Ruscha

The Picture of the Week feature was meant to be a gentle way to blog my way into the weekend with an eye-catching image and a brief comment to make some sense of it. I’ve turned out to be not very good at it, because I tend to post more than one image at a time. There are just too many pictures in the world. This week, I’m reminding myself of the marvellous Ed Ruscha exhibition I saw at London’s Hayward gallery before Christmas. It closed last weekend, so I’m afraid you can’t even pay a visit if you like what you see here. Sorry. Ruscha’s blunt-statement paintings match perfectly with the Hayward’s brutal, boxy architecture, especially things like his famous “OOF”, which I photographed at MOMA a couple of years ago. Anyway, I was particularly taken with his movie-related paintings such as The End (above, 1991) and Exit (below, 1990). Making something the subject of a painting gives it a special emphasis, a new status, and Ruscha likes to grant that promotion to the bits of text we’re not supposed to celebrate – the sign that points to the way out of the cinema, for instance, like an “off” switch for the movie, or the text that marks the conclusion, in this case the stuttering, scratched breakdown of the film itself as well as its finish. “Deathly but wry” is what I would write on the poster if it was my job to write posters…

Alternatively, you might find Ruscha taking iconic text and bringing it down a peg or two:

Picture of the Week #1: Ivan Albright’s Dorian Gray

Dorian Gray

Because it’s Friday, here’s a new quick n’ easy regular feature, showing off an interesting image that has crossed my path in the last seven days. Tuesy really enjoyed the new adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, which she watched in preparation for a visit to Matthew Bourne’s production in Cardiff tonight, though I’m not there to join her for either show, alas. We were both reminded of Ivan Albright‘s painting of Dorian Gray that was used in the 1945 film adaptation. We saw it at the Chicago Institute of Art last year, and it’s really a standout, not least for its garish grotesquerie. It certainly looks pretty striking even here on my little blog.

It was interesting to see in a gallery a painting that had been designed to have a particular impact onscreen; the black and white movie switches to three-strip Technicolor just for two shots of the painting, first in its original form, then in Albright’s aged and corrupted version. The painting is round a corner in one of the galleries, so you can’t see it from other rooms – it’s a real jolt to the eyes when it appears in front of you. Above is the photo I took of it in Chicago, hopefully preserving most of the colour. The blistering effect reminds me of the way film decays.

Albright’s twin brother was originally asked to paint the earlier picture of Dorian, but in the end Henrique Medina came up with this:

Henrique Medina's Portrait of Dorian Gray

John Coulthart has more about these paintings, including a picture of the Albright twins preparing their portrait from a dummy of the decayed Dorian at his blog. Well worth a look.

Bunch of Art

Data- The Goonies

It’s time to decorate this blog with some colourful pictures to take us into the weekend. The HeyUGuys movie blog drew my attention to the Crazy 4 Cult gallery of artworks inspired by cult films, some of them, including The Goonies (see above), perhaps not deserving of the love and care lavished upon them. There’s a disproportionate fondness for Tim Burton and The Wizard of Oz, but you’re bound to find something you think is cool. I especially like this one, in which Dorothy is definitely not in Kansas anymore:

Dorothy Who

And who wouldn’t want a Big Lebowski doll?

Big Lebowski

Finally, I have to include one of Spectacular Attractions‘ favourite characters:


Begone Dull Care: Norman McLaren Randomised

Norman McLaren

When I started a series of “Randomised” film analyses, an exercise which I have really enjoyed, I tended to use it as a counterpoint to the longer, more deliberate essays I was in the habit of posting around here. The notion of taking three or four frames from a film and using them as the steer for a discussion allowed me to work quickly in a more loose, but hopefully still interesting way. In a comment on one of the posts, Mathew Flanagan suggested the idea of applying randomisation to more abstract kinds of film. I pledged to follow it up, so here is my effort at his chosen film, Begone Dull Care, Norman McLaren‘s (co-constructed with Evelyn Lambart) animated accompaniment to a performance of Oscar Peterson‘s tune of the same name.

Begone Dull Care lasts for 467 seconds, so I thought I’d ask my random number provider to pick four frames out of those many seconds: 96, 145, 316 and 462. I’ll get started right away. If you’re confused about how this post works, I hope it’ll become clear what I’m doing as we go along…

Begone Dull Care 96th second

There may be a problem here – I thought about randomising something like Stan Brakhage’s Mothlight, which creates patterns out of insect pieces and leaves stuck directly onto the film strip. Each frame is an individual picture as much as it is part of a continuum of movement (as is almost always the case in a live-action film, so there’s a danger that the randomised analysis would end up looking for patterns in the scattered phenomena of the abstract film, as if it were a flickering Rorschach test conducted on the artist. I wouldn’t want to be looking for “messages” within the surfaces, scratches and bursts of colour in this film. It’s an experimental film in the sense of seeing “what would happen if…” rather than plotting out an agenda and deploying visual cues to effect it. McLaren may have tried to be led by the music towards a complimentary visual expression of its tonalities and rhythms, but it is still personally expressive. Another artist might have chosen a much smokier, cooler colour palette, falling back on the stereotypical association of jazz with silver, black and blue. McLaren had been inspired to paint directly on film, in part by Len Lye’s Colour Box (1935), and had finally obtained the right colour film stock to let him make Begone Dull Care in 1947. In this “shot”, red dominates, and the trail of marks that snakes up one side of the frame is presumably one that sneaks into the neighbouring frames, sidestepping the usual patterns of frame-by-frame animation that might be expected to construct the continuous movement of a single object (a cartoon mouse, for instance) out of incremental movements. Instead of simulating objects with a static camera position, these trails of scratches and indentations on the filmstrip propose a new wave of thinking about animated movement. It is freedom to deviate from the boundaries of the frame, just as improvisatory jazz might stray from the script of the musical stave or the strictures of the time signature.

Begone Dull Care 125th second

Too sweetly pink to be bloodstains, they remind me of flower petals. A couple of shades more scarlet and I might have thought of a bloodied shroud, but red for McLaren seems to be the tone of joy rather than of danger. We often think that red is the colour selected by nature to signify danger or poison to predators. In actual fact, the combination of yellow and black does a pretty good job of this, while red has been adopted by humans because it stands out most effectively against its surroundings, as when it’s needed to attract your attention on STOP signs or traffic lights. It’s a colour that pushes forward towards the eye, usually standing in stark contrast to everything outside of the frame (i.e. the surroundings in the cinema or of your front room if, like me, you’re watching this on DVD). These particular tangles and twists of red come in different shades, some looking like stains, other retaining what looks like fresh liquidity. They may bunch together in places, but they never cohere into discernible forms.

Begone Dull Care 316th second

Scratches on film can be caused by grit in the back of the camera or projector. They remind us of the materiality, the mortality of film. Nowadays, you can purchase digital stock footage of scratches to add to your own film to make it look old and worn. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez tried to authenticate their double-bill Grindhouse with this kind of simulated wear n’ tear. For this section of the film, the scratches take over. They don’t obscure the scene, they are the scene. Their parallel lines briefly evoke the lines of a musical stave or the strings of an instrument, but they shift thrillingly in accord with the suspended chords and notes of Peterson’s improvisation, which seems to be plotting its next move with care. This frame also reminds us of the stream of scratches from the first image above; here, the scratches don’t elaborate on their basis in vertical, transframe movement. Like figures on the screen of an oscilloscope they wait for sonic input to pluck their strings and create new formations.

Begone Dull Care 460th second

I couldn’t resist a fourth frame. Usually, the randomisation process is restricted to three images from the film, but there’s so much to see in this film that it really feels as though anything could be discovered within, and I rarely get the chance to slow down the film and pick apart its components. Could it be that these frozen frames kill off the film? They were supposed to be viewed not as discrete entities (though many, like this one, look like perfectly formed little abtracts on their own – there’s definitely a touch of Joan Miró on show here) but as flowing streams of sensory data to be felt and absorbed through the cumulative effects of their flickering squiggling shapes. This frame, more than the others (but similar to the first) looks like a collection of protozoa swarming under a microscope, as if the filmstrip is teeming with life. Is it a coincidence that most of the metaphors for which I’ve reached in trying to get a grip on this film have been those of scientific observation (Rorschach, oscilloscope, microscope)? Perhaps not. Perhaps I was unconsciously drawing those associations to try and find a comforting pattern in the potentially disturbing randomness. Or perhaps the film really does thematise a kind of enhanced vision, where music can be seen and fleetingly grasped.