While in New York last week I finally had the opportunity to visit Anthology Film Archives (AFA), and their archivist Andrew Lampert, who I’ve connected with on several projects at the Walker over the past year. Anthology is very well-regarded for their Essential Cinema program, their ongoing presentation of works by the masters of avant-garde and experimental film. On the night I happened to stop in, Andrew was presenting an UNessential Cinema program he entitled Double Projection Theater. The Unessential Cinema programs provide AFA with an opportunity to dig deeper into their archive, and work with materials from orphaned donations or in some cases, films that were on their way out of the archive. (Don’t fret, these films are typically prints that are neither rare to Anthology or the world in general, in the cases presented that evening, the films were their fifth or sixth copies of a given title and in poor condition. Anthology has a general policy of not throwing away any film.) For Double Projection theater, Andrew took two related reels, meant to be projected in succession or side by side, and projected on top of one another. It is basically a means of creating new work out of other, existing work. In one case, it was outtakes from a Benetton commercial that had one reel projected upside-down over the other. The footage was of a model in a stark white room, and the interaction between the two reels was actually quite beautiful. Another piece found two reels of a Paul Sharits film, typically projected side by side, projected on top of one another, with the sound from both reels being played back. If you’ve seen some of Sharits’ work (We have his amazing T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G in the Ruben Film and Video Study Collection,) you can understand how intense an experience this was. It was incredible. This led to thoughts, and a conversation with Andrew, about the proper presentation of artists’ work. On one hand, re-appropriation of existng work has a long-standing tradition in experimental film, but on the other, an archive should strive to present work in the manner the artist intended. This is something we are always striving for at the Walker. Most of the works that were created and presented were orphaned films with unknown origins or intentions, but the Sharits piece raised some interesting questions.
Was it right to present the film in this way? The answer we came to was yes. 1. The film was presented explicitly as a “new” work made from existing material. It was completely clear that you were not watching Paul Sharits’ Ray Gun Virus, but something else made from it. 2. AFA presents Ray Gun Virus, and other works properly, as per the artists’ intentions, on a very regular basis. In fact, presenting this material in a new way, could actually lead people to artists they otherwise would not have found. 3. Andrew works closely with Pauls Sharits’ son Christopher and the Paul Sharits estate in the restoration and preservation of his work, and know that they would not be opposed to this presentation.
All in all, it was a thought-provoking, inspiring and fun program. It demonstrated that amazing things can come out of mundane materials, and that every so often, more is more.
Anthology does fantastic work in the preservation and presentation of experimental cinema. If ever in NYC, I would highly recommend spending an evening there and seeing whatever is on their screens. Chances are rare that you will get many opportunities to see it again elsewhere.