Feb 25, 2013

"Avant-garde Masters: A Decade of Preservation "

Anthology Film Archives (Jan, 16th, 2013) 

(Image taken from AFA’s Series page)

 • Frank Stauffacher, Notes On the Port of St. Francis (1951, 21 min, 16mm Preserved by Pacific 
   Film Archives, with narration by Vincent Price)
 • Rudy Burckhardt, The Climate of New York (1948, 21 min, 16mm, Preserved by Anthology Film
 • Beryl Sokoloff, GAUDI (1962, 14 min, 16mm, Preserved by Silver Bow Art)
 • Tom Palazzolo, HE (1966, 8 min, 16mm, Preserved by Chicago Filmmakers)

   Originally scheduled for Sunday, October 28th and then lumped again into their “Sandy Redux” series on January 11-16th, this screening was an attempt to give these films a reception when their original screenings had been cancelled due to natural disaster and emergency. The ameliorative screening showed to a nearly sold-out crowd in the 60 seat Maya-Deren Theater. The “Avant-Garde Masters: A Decade of Preservation,” showed the above works to a crowd of students, film lovers, archivists, and film-makers. There was lingering discussion and chatter, and many greetings in the crowd afterwards.

 As the eponymous title indicated, the A-G Masters is a singular grant, now in its 10th year, devoted specifically to preserving avant-garde films. The A-G Masters grant recipients are one of the very few ways in which these already overlooked works have been saved from obscurity and a slow death. Created in 2003 by the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) and The Film Foundation with the intent to preserve American Avant-garde cinema, according to the NFPF website this grant has preserved over 105 films by 49 filmmakers. Twenty organizations have thus far participated in sponsoring films for preservation that run the gamut from classics of the avant-garde (ex: Brakhage) to handmade efforts by overlooked, never-heard from artists (ex: Sokoloff). The unknown films that are chosen challenge and help expand the idea of the “avant-garde” American film. However, it is interesting to note that the grants restrict themselves only to film made beyond the last 20 years, film as a medium (rather than video, for example), as well as welcoming artists excluded from exhibition and the canon. As Martin Scorsese, the funder/patron of the fund notes on the NFPF website, however, "there's no other program of its kind."

  Anthology Film Archive had been one of the recurring sponsoring institutions, as it is similarly singular in being held synonymous with the avant-garde canon it helped create and their preservation and exhibition today. Dedicated in not only showing, but also actively preserving and archiving film, it has actively sponsored a number of films for NFPF grants and is, therefore, also one of the few institutions around the world in which such an screening is perfectly natural and in tune with the institutions missions from its very founding until now: to provide a home and effectively help canonize, preserve, and show in their original format works that were rarely seen to begin with

  Introduced enthusiastically by archivist Jon Klacsmann, the four small gauge films shown were not introduced in any heavy-handed way that introduced the curation involved, however the films evidenced a commonality that went beyond their avant-garde status to their content of cityscapes and street pedestrian scenes, in a lyrical and loosely-documentary fashion that would be immediately appealing in a grant application. These films often showed unusual footage of a variety of neglected districts and areas, such as the then empty wasteland of Astoria, the “foreign and exotic” Chinese enclaves in San Francisco, or New York City’s Times Square at mid-century lit up and aglow with neons.

  While I thought the night’s screening of 16mm preservation work within the Maya Deren theater at Anthology Film Archives quite fitting and successful, some other attendees closely affiliated to pieces felt that the films were not absolutely loyal to the original works in some way. Another attendee mentioned to me that he thought the colors were much too bright to not have been improved upon in some way. I also later found out that one of the pieces was an 8mm blow-up and that the accompanying sound had been played on CD.  These comments rang in my head, as questions of fidelity to original format is a difficult philosophical preservation issue, given the lack of 8mm screening opportunities. The technical issues of syncing a separate sound source is a difficult technical issue. How to appropriately preserve work that cannot be readily screened in its originally format is a dilemma that preservationists will only be forced to grapple with more and more. Given the committed audience members, however, it seems only natural that there were some mixed criticisms on the philosophically as well as technically difficult work that went behind the screenings of the night. 

 In its yearly exhibitions of NFPF film grant preservation projects, Anthology Archives is one of the few forums to actively promote preservation work that would otherwise never be seen in their film format. The NFPF events page makes it clear that while the grant application reserves a section on the access/exhibition of the film, films in 16mm such as the ones included on the program are probably difficult to screen. In addition to the fact that many film theaters simply would not have the audience or desire to screen these works, technical limitations and the very real lack of 16mm projectors in film theaters today due to the very decisive turn to digital formats have also decreased the chance of these films to be reconsidered and re-seen. Luckily, institutions like AFA have continued in their dedication to film. Jed Rapfogal, curator at Anthology has interviewed regarding his curating practices and states that "our goal...is to give exposure to films that might otherwise fall through the cracks." The work screened, due to content as well as its film medium certainly counts as films that have fallen through the cracks.

Julia Kim 

Given that these films will be very difficult to see in 16mm, I've decided to include links to online digitized clips of from these not-often-seen filmmakers:
Palazzolo's Jerrry's Deli (1974)=
Stauffacher's Bicycle Polo at San Mateo (1940)

National Film Preservation Foundation Avant-Garde Masters Grants.  http://www.filmpreservation.org/nfpf-grants/avant-garde-masters-grants

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.