Feb 28, 2011

Plutonian Pictures ‘Hot Stuff’ Show

It's safe to say that Greg Singer, a long-time projectionist in the Audio/Visual department at the Museum of Modern Art, is Plutonian Pictures.  He built the “Micro Cinema,” as he calls it, from the ground up in his TriBeCa loft. The setup includes 16mm and 8mm reel-to-reel projectors, video and digital projection, 35mm slides, a ViewMaster, LP, CD and audiocassette playback, and a meticulously designed sound system that allows for either digital surround or classic analog sound presentation. The room is partitioned with pipe and drape and the pristine glass bead screen can be manually masked. Nine seats—the maximum that the room will hold—are carefully positioned for optimal viewing and sound. Perfectly timed dimmers control soft red lighting, giving each presentation a unique atmosphere that evokes at once the intense intimacy of a private screening and the marked professionalism of a fine arts cinema.
Greg’s attention to detail does not end at the design of his Plutonian Pictures space. Within the Micro Cinema he hosts regular, thoughtfully curated programs for an invitational audience of nine. The exclusivity of each show brings with it an intimacy that allows each guest, loving referred to as Plutonians, to feel connected to the programming, the cinema itself and their host. Each is even asked to bring a dish that compliments the night’s program and come an hour early to be introduced to each other and given a tour of the private screening room. Each show is a one-time event lasting late into the night, and each includes multiple formats and often a combination of industrial and narrative film, art slides and relating audio material. However, the fun for Greg is in the moment when his audience discovers just how each piece relates, and the dialogue that follows.

The latest Plutonian Pictures exhibition, “Hot Stuff,” took place on Saturday, February 26, 2011 and was advertised on the Plutonian Pictures blog (http://plutonianpictures.blogspot.com/) as a double feature of Bruce Conner’s 16mm short, Crossroads, and Mickey Spillane’s Kiss Me Deadly. The evening began as they all do, with a small group of Plutonians arriving with Whole Foods bags in hand, adding salsa and spicy olives to the refreshment table as the host played a score of dark experimental music and swapped out the regular lighting in his home for darker reds and yellows. The guests, invited and selected by Greg, included artists, filmmakers, a chef, students, designers, curators, first timers and “original Plutonians.” As we mingled, Greg showed the newcomers around his Micro Cinema and explained that the night’s music was sent to him by his son, a music student at Oberlin, who described it as “what’s hot.” Eventually the bell rang, signaling that it was time for guests to move into the screening room and find their seats, each designated with a “Reserved” card. As we filed in, a pre-show slide filled the screen with red and the words “picture show” and Greg traded out the industrial sounds of the music he’d been playing digitally for a haunting LP of similarly-themed music from the analog era.
Greg began a series of colorful art photos, new additions to his private collection of over 4,000 35mm slides, and explained that the 16mm print he would be projecting was on loan from MoMA’s circulating prints collection. He added that he only shows prints of which the rights have been cleared through MoMA or expressly cleared for his use by the artist or rights holder.  As he threaded Crossroads into the projector and brought the “house lights” down, he reassured his small audience that the connection between the films would be evident in the second half of the show. Bruce Conner created Crossroads from Defense Department footage of nuclear testing at Bikini Atoll, taken in 1946 from 27 different cameras. He slowed down the footage of immense mushroom clouds and their potential destructive power and edited it into a hypnotizing montage set to two very different scores, the first by Patrick Gleeson and the second by Terry Riley. The change in score and shifts between eye-level shots and airborne overhead shots gave the piece a somewhat narrative structure that was later reflected in the second film. At 36-minutes, in the small screening room with the sound of 16mm projectors running behind the combination of carefully composed music and nuclear explosions, the effect was overwhelming. The film ran its last frame and an “Intermission” slide took the screen as the lights came back up. Greg allowed us an extended break to discuss, get refreshments and clear our minds for a very different second half.
Mickey Spillane’s 1955 noir, Kiss Me Deadly, stars Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer, a private eye who picks up a troubled blonde hitchhiker and is unknowingly pulled into a deadly quest for a box with mysterious contents. As Hammer and his secretary/love interest Velda begin to unravel the hitchhiker’s secret, they find that the box contains an atomic substance that each character they encounter is either killed over or eventually killed by when it is released in an epic explosion at the end of the film. The film was projected from the 1997 DVD, which contains the restored original ending in which Hammer and Velda escape the exploding house at the end. For years the film ran with a now discredited, shortened ending in which the two are never seen escaping from the house, implying the demise of every character involved in the plot. The film is a clear illustration of the Cold War fear of the 1950s that is chillingly validated in Conner’s piece. Its form also reinforces the well-paced editing and obvious narrative elements that turn the elements in Crossroads from government camera footage and original music composition into a stylized examination of destruction. For example, dramatic effect and chilling images are present from the first shot of Kiss Me Deadly, but Mike Hammer’s understanding of them builds more slowly. As the reality of what he’s involved in sinks in, his detective work, relationships and outlook on life can no longer carry on in the sexy, narcissistic and emotionally unattached way that he’s used to. When the contents of the box are finally revealed, it is obvious to him that the situation is much bigger than he could comprehend—much bigger than himself—and he must go beyond what he’s prepared for to save himself and the things that matter to him from destruction. Much like with Crossroads, it is an outsider’s experience of the threat of nuclear war.  
Greg’s argument in creating a night around this pairing began with the Cold War connection, but allowed his audience to make artistic, stylistic and more romantic connections between the pieces. The “Hot Stuff” titled playfully pulled all of these together. Though abstractly removed from Greg’s argument in pairing these two films, I found the greatest take away to be the sensory experience and excitement evoked by a night so meticulously planned that each detailed reinforced the one before it and the overall theme.
Greg takes his screenings seriously and feels passionately about sharing them, as he says, “with friends.” This is evident in every aspect of his shows, particularly his excitement at watching his friends uncover and discuss the connections that he hoped for in planning them. Before his guests file out at the end of the night, they are asked to sign a guest book, leaving their thoughts and their addresses for follow up. After “Hot Stuff,” discussion carried out the front door and into the elevator, and we were left with new friends and an unforgettable cinematic experience.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your kind comments...!
    'Plutonian Pictures' lives & thrives on friendship.
    Hope to see you at future screenings.
    Best Regards-Greg


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