TROUBLE: Hollywood viewed by the avant-garde cinema

TROUBLE: Hollywood Viewed by the Avant-Garde cinema

Curated by Brett Kashmere + Astria Suparak
Created to accompany the exhibition Industry: Recent works by Richard Kerr
@ La Cinematheque Quebecoise, Montreal, QC
January 23, 2005

Films by:
Martin Arnold, Linda Christanell, Bruce Conner, Richard Kerr, Lewis Klahr, Matthias Müller, Peter Tscherkassky, Virgil Widrich

Jennifer Lopez, Humphrey Bogart, Barbara Hershey, Samuel L. Jackson, Janet Leigh, Harrison Ford and Judy Garland.

Manipulating hands and unresolved desire.

Screaming starlets, wholesome teens panting unwholesomely, lecherous parents, the history of film, sappy moments, and explosions in various atmospheres.

Sunset Strip may be a two-way street, but there’s no escape from female flesh when entering a movie coliseum or even the neighbourhood microcinema. Not only is the Hollywood industry consumed with containing, exposing and displaying women, experimental filmmakers (although formally and conceptually innovative) are similarly perpetrators and/or victims of these same crimes of convention. But most do so consciously, mining mainstream cinema’s endless blockbusters, influential archetypes and infamous female trouble. Yes, these girls are (in) trouble, this desire is problematic, these pictures are moving, those directions are dangerous.

Castration anxiety or aesthetic deconstruction? Can the cinematic avant-gardes generate an appropriate response to Hollywood’s “phallic mothers,” femme fatales, feminine masquerades, monstrosities and misogyny? Where is the through-line of radical form, found footage and feminist film theory? Re-presenting representations of genre paradigms, readymade characters and dramatic soundtracks via campy performance, chemical experimentation, physical collage, dialectical and vertical montage and genre decoupage are the avantgardes’ preferred forms of star treatment.

The filmmakers assembled for Trouble extract not only hidden but also unintentional, third meanings, which are as varied as the ways of finding: From a shoebox of Coming Attractions left at a ramshackle prairie drive-in to pirated Golden Age video reductions, from a “girlie film” lifted from a friend’s dresser drawer to a sublimated obsession with a B-movie actress, all of the films gathered here inventively appropriate industrial-pop commodities.

Trouble begins with Matthias Müller’s Hitchcockian simulacrum, Home Stories (1) and Martin Arnold’s accordion played Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (2), which recast classic genres in parodic and structural fashions, respectively. Then Virgil Widrich’s Fast Film (3) expands those genres to correlate roles and situations across multiple eras. Bruce Conner’s A Movie (4) questions the emotional manipulation by Hollywood that Fast Film and Home Stories subscribe to. Although the latter two playfully point out stereotypes of heroes, damsels in distress and perpetual pursuits by swapping actors and scenes for other actors and scenes, they also rely on well-versed tropes to progress the story. A Movie sets-up a similar narrative with its grand music and heroic imagery but gradually reveals the lies conceived in Hollywood’s textbook marriage of sound and picture. In opposition to Fast Film’s doubly fabricated disasters, A Movie’s disastrous actualities have human consequences, trading feel-good chuckles for tragic realizations of everyday misfortune.

Lewis Klahr’s Her Fragrant Emulsion (5) and Linda Christanell’s Moving Picture (6) distill the focus onto single actresses. To create Her Fragrant Emulsion Klahr cut his heartthrob Mimsy Farmer out of a disposable ‘70s feature. Gluing and taping these jagged slivers onto clear leader, Klahr tactilely thrusts his aggressive passion onto the screen–feelings made tenderly passive through the acceptance that this is the closest he can get to her. Conversely, Moving Picture is a contemplative, abstruse reflection on the image of Barbara Stanwyck, actually, on the idea of Barbara Stanwyck (or any actress) who unnaturally exists in a studio glamour shot, eternally soft-focused and enticing despite real time lapse and variation that unfolds in Christanell’s romantic architecture photography.

Moving Picture provides a quiet pause before the angst, spectacle and barrage of the final two films. Peter Tscherkassky’s Outer Space (7) and Richard Kerr’s collage dʼhollywood (8) assume epic dimensions for avant-garde cinema. Super-sized to theatrical 35mm scale (with Outer Space maintaining the source film’s widescreen Cinemascope), they assail the eyes with accelerated action and saturate the ears with hyper-dramatic horror movie motifs. Each filmmaker lulls the viewer with stifled, sustained suspense, deviously foreshadowing the maelstrom to come. Shifting the assault on scripted screen victims to the live on-lookers in the theatre, these films ruthlessly deliver the ultimate Hollywood ending.

This January, sink into the distracting velvet luxury of manipulation, dreamily stargaze and empathetically role-play, imbibe the unhealthy cocktail of fear and desire, and most importantly, Trouble yourself with an evening of celluloid screen play.


1. Home Stories, Matthias Müller (Germany), 1990, 16mm, color, 6 minutes
“She screams. She falls silent. The expectation of terror makes her terror. But what she faces is nothing but the observer’s view. She is the observed. Cliches of melodrama unite into a drama of stereotypes. The brilliant montage of cases in point reveals the mechanism of voyeurism in Home Stories by Matthias Müller.” – German Association of Film Critics

2. Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy, Martin Arnold (Austria), 1998, 16mm, b&w, 14 minutes
“In his new film, Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy… Arnold’s campaign of deconstruction of classic Hollywood film codes finally turns into film music… The family scenes, which in the original last only seconds and are not particularly notable, are surgically sectioned into single frames. Using repetition of these ‘single cells’ and a new rhythm – a kind of cloning procedure – Arnold then creates an inflated, monstrous doppelganger of the original cuts lasting many minutes. The hidden message of sex and violence is turned inside out to the point where it simply crackles.” – Dirk Schaefer

3. Fast Film, Virgil Widrich (Austria), 2003, 35mm, color, 14 minutes
“A kiss, a happy couple. but then, the woman is kidnapped, and the man sets off to save her. A dramatic rescue story full of wild chases begins. The audience is taken to the center of the Earth and the enemy’s headquarters… This tour de force through film history, from its silent beginnings to presentday Hollywood, lasts just 14 minutes: truly a fast film which could hardly be more furious.” – Peter Tscherkassky

4. A Movie, Bruce Conner (USA), 1958, 16mm, b&w, 12 minutes
“… a montage of found materials from fact (newsreels) and fiction (old movies). Cliches and horrors make a rapid collage in which destruction and sex follow each other in images of pursuit and falling until finally a diver disappears through a hole at the bottom of the sea – the ultimate exit. The entire thing is prefaced by a girl from a shady movie lazily undressing. By the time A Movie is over she has retrospectively become a Circe or a Prime Mover.” – Brian O’Doherty, The New York Times

5. Her Fragrant Emulsion, Lewis Klahr (USA), 1987, 16mm, color, 10 minutes
“In Her Fragrant Emulsion, American filmmaker Lewis Klahr immolates himself in the androgynous presence of another marginalized actress, nitroburning funny-car diva Mimsy Farmer… whose smile Klahr was seduced to regard as ‘a little too believable,’ convincing him that Farmer was ‘genuinely wild and having too good a time’ on screen, and this quality sealed her fate as a B-movie actress.” – Guy Maddin, The Village Voice

6. Moving Picture, Linda Christanell (Austria), 1995, 16mm, color/b&w, 11 minutes
“In Linda Christanell’s newest film Moving Picture, the opulent presentation of fetishistically decorated tableaux has made way for a material-transposing montage technique. The applied viewpoint (via Barbara Stanwyck) opens up multi-dimensional insights and varies those poetic aspects which have til now been indicative of Christanell’s moving (in both senses of the word) images. The results are new cadenzas in sound and picture.” – Ulrike Sladek

7. Outer Space, Peter Tscherkassky (Austria), 1999, 35mm Cinemascope, b&w, 10 minutes
“A premonition of a horror film, lurking danger: A house – at night, slightly tilted in the camera’s view, eerily lit – surfaces from the pitch black, then sinks back into it again. A young woman begins to move slowly towards the building. She enters it. The film cuts crackle, the sound track grates, suppressed, smothered… Outer Space is a shocker of cinematic dysfunctions; a hell-raiser of avant-garde cinema. It conjures up an inferno which pursues the destruction (of cinematic narrative and illusion) with unimaginable beauty.” – Peter Tscherkassky

8. collage dʼhollywood, Richard Kerr (Canada), 2003, 35mm, color, 8 minutes
“Richard Kerr offers a tremendous short, in which he ingenuously recycles numerous sci-fi and horror movie trailers. When meshed together, said genre film trailers create an uneasy collage of the filmmakers’ collective imagination, one overtaken with scenes of the Apocalypse, death and destruction. A mesmerizing film that demands to be watched again and again.” – Matthew Hays, Montreal Mirror

Total running time: 86 minutes


“Stealing from the Dream Factory: Collage, Montage, Hollywood and the Avant-Garde” by William C. Weiss