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The 35th Ann Arbor Film Festival

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Iwould like to begin by thanking my mother for drawing our attention to this excerpt from the autobiography of Charles Darwin: "... No pursuit at Cambridge was followed with nearly so much earnestness or gave me so much pleasure as collecting beetles . . . I will give a proof of my zcal: one day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles, and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas! it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as was the third one." This tale constitutes an interesting metaphor when one is setting out to reflect on the 35th annual Ann ArborFilmFestival; especially when we read a little further and discover this interesting poetic passage involving location dynamics: "I am surprised what an indelible impression many of the beetles which I caught at Cambridge have left on my mind. I can remember the exact appearance of certain posts, old trees and banks where I made a good capture." Now this was a fellow who would go out and hunt down earthworm excrements. Willing to stare at anything which occurs on this here planet; to stare, consider, compare, reflect, conclude and continue inanotherdirection. If Iamtooffer anyone advice on how to approach an internationally acclaimed, extended festival of independent and experimental 1 6-millirneter films, I might just point to Darwin and recommend that lcvel of fascination. I mean the dude is not looking for entertainment. He's taken in by the factthatTHIS IS NOT ATEDIOUS WORLD, and even the smallest grub is worth a good long look. I do try and use similar focus as a human and a poet. It's one reason I can watch hours and hours of partially or even totally unpredictable motion pictures. A Film Festival might ought to be a wide-ranging reflection of the world. Compare experimental cinema withMahler'sThirdsymphony, Coltrane and Dolphy at the Village Vanguard, the Haikus of Richard Wright, or a visit to the planetarium on blue blotter acid. Right at this moment our panoramic visión might include Kurt Schwitters' Merzbau, Congo Square, the Calumet Opera House or Detroit's Heidelberg Project. The length and breadth and depth of the way things really are, have been or can be. Even protracted hymns to the utterly impossible. Ann Arbor's Film Festival, many of us feel, reaches for this kind of a range more consistently than nearly any other cultural ritual hereabouts. I said: RITUAL. The dictionary says that means: "Of the nature of or practiced as a rite or rites." One of Ann Arbor's Rites of Spring involves night after night of prescreenings to determine what will make it to the big dreamspace at the Michigan Theatre. As a professional projectionist I can vouch for the fact that anyone participating in hour aftcrhourofmotion picture viewing is going to get an altercd perspccti ve which may transform the viewer more effectively than hypnosis. Transformation and Ritual are not exactly the cornerstones of American culture. This is why Poetry and Jazz, and indeed any forms which are too meaningful, have such a rough time of it. Anthony Braxton observes: "Mainstream culture values spectacle (what is of interest) rather than substance (what is of use for living); that is, entertainment rather than creativity." Braxton goes on to outline the various functions of art as he sees them: The Vibrational Function is that which is transmitted to the individual based on self-realization and life-experience. The Living Function involves scientific and spiritual inter-relationships, and how the information operates on a higher plane to serve the community. A Scientific Function, naturally, leads through more exacting study of said phenomena (Darwin and his beetles). The Composite Function touches upon "what it means to humanity - how people are able to use it to live, and, we hope, evolve." The Ritual Function, says Braxton, is the highest function. The ritualization of the information, as "an affirmation of all the degrees, coupled with the consideration of ethics, spirituality - all that Ritual really means: To erect an experience that reflects (one's) beliefs about the cosmos, about physicality, about life, purpose, motivation, et cetera ..." (from Graham Lock's "Forces In Motion," a study on the life and philosophy of Anthony Braxton). lm asking you to consider the Ann Arbor Film Festival ritualistically. As you sit and allow yourself to be absorbed into the space between yourself and the screen, (where Godard says Cinema really exists), while savoring the mixture of Experiments, Animations, Narratives and Documentaries, try to put your ego away for a few hours. Choose the humbling and ing Ritualistic Observance of Cinema- is-not-merely-entertainment. This might be asking too much from some members of our overstimulated society, where Entertainment is so over-emphasized that education itself is becoming difficult. "Entertain" comes from the Late Middle English word entertene meaning "to hold mutually." Primary definition: To hold the attention of agreeably; divert; amuse. Anothertake: Toadmit intothemind (I like this one out of context!) To consider. To hold in the mind; harbor; cherish. To please, amuse. "Entertainment," in the dictionary, describes an agreeable occupation for the mind. It is fairly certain that lots of art has nothing to do with making us feel better. It's way deeperand wider, heavierand lighter than any of that. This is why Icall for an awareness of the Ritual Function. Faced with a twenty-five minute study in subtle color fluctuations followed by a documentary on the rights of Puerto Rican women, then a strangely stated portrait of somebody ' s pet snai 1 : these are combinations which deserve our respectful Ritualistic staring. Trance out on the purple and red wavelengths. Empty your mind of all extraneous thoughts and succumb to the color field. Listen carefully to the spoken dialogue during the documentary. You will learn something. Next, take a deep breath and watch the snail extending and retracting its antennae. Everything counts. And yes, in fact, some of this is going to be very entertaining indeed. The funniest films I've ever seen have been at these festivals, along with some of the most gradual and understated. If tedium seems to be the medium, remembcr that this is no tedious world, and that everything should be given a few minutes' attention. There is nothing quite like the 16 millimeter film experience. B ig and 1 umi nescent. No matter how clever the other technology pretends itself to be, the movie screen glowin' in a dark place is a miracle unto itself. I want to end this epistle with an enigma, in honor of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, so full of healthy surprises and enigmatic moments: Picture the grainy black and white film footage of Judith Malina and Julián Beck's mid-1960s Living Theatre presentation, "Frankenstein." A sort of Delphic Oracle of a woman with hair standing on end raises her arms above her head while intoning the Secret Of Life: "5 x 5 is 75 ! 6 x 8 is 98! Electric eye and tooth and feet are all you need to make real meat!" At this terrible pronouncement, the entire stage and set is covered with swarming, howling actors, sweating profusely as the air filis with shrieks and moans. Each spectator must decide on an individual basis what this means and how it will color the rest of one's personal landscape from here on out. It is an example of ritual transcending entertainment, and no amount of time will dilute its pungency. Surrender your Self at the door. Every single moment is a living breathing miracle. This is not a tedious planet.


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