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Magic Eye Returns

Jimmy Joe Roche's "Basement Bleeds"

By Bret McCabe | Posted 2/17/2010

Magic Eye Film Series

Feb. 22, the Charles Theatre, 9:30 p.m.

South Carolina native Mary Helena Clark started the Magic Eye Film Series Jan. 17, 2009, featuring the works of Robert Todd. In the year since, Clark has screened works of contemporary experimental and expanded cinema filmmakers such as Bruce McClure, Fern Silva, Anne Robertson, Larry Gottheim, and others, bringing a wealth of under-seen filmmakers to an interested audience. She's moving to Chicago this fall to start a masters program at the University of Illinois-Chicago, but with the programming help of filmmakers such as Karen Yasinsky and Matt Porterfield, Clark hopes Magic Eye can continue on. She recently sat down with City Paper for a brief chat about the upcoming Magic Eye installment--curated by Matt Porterfield and featuring Baltimore filmmakers--and experimental films in general.

City Paper: So Matt took over the reins for programming this one?
Mary Helena Clark: Right. He's way more clued into the Baltimore filmmaker scene. And that was something that, when we started the series, we were interested in doing. I was really interested in bringing expanded cinema artists, the actual people, to the city. But at the last five shows I really hadn't tapped into the local talent, so Matt was really instrumental in that.

CP: So this upcoming event is focusing more on local filmmakers?
MHC: It's just like a sampler, but there's some old stuff. Like, I don't know if you know Fred Worden's films. He teaches at UMBC, but I got stuff from him from the 60s, which there's been this renewed interest in, which is really cool. And then Stan Vanderbeek is one of the big Baltimore guys, so we're showing one of his movies--which is weird, because some of his early computer animations that he did with Bell [Labs], it relates really nicely to some of the things people are doing now.

CP: So did you study experimental film as a discipline in college? Or how did you come to it? I ask because we're a generation apart in terms of age and it seems, just watching what went on in the 1990s and the so-called explosion of independent film, there appeared to be a great deal of activity in narrative cinema but less visible activity in experimental or expanded cinema--at least, if you didn't live in a New York or Chicago or some place that had venues or series that outwardly catered to such fringes. Meaning that even if you were interested in checking out something, it was still very, very hard to find films you've read about or heard about. You just wouldn't see them at all. You wouldn't be able to see a Bruce Conner film unless you caught a larger body of his work touring through museums somewhere. Now, you can find Hollis Frampton films online, so there's a little bit more exposure and availability of films now instead of, you know, reading Amos Vogel's book and thinking, I can't wait to see that sometime before I die.
MHC: I know. That's the weird thing about it. I've talked to some friends who were around before Ubu Web or YouTube where, yeah, they'd read about these films and kind of imagine them and wait until they came to the Anthology [Film Archives]or something.

CP: Imagine them--that's funny. For me, Hollis Frampton, I've always just liked his work because it's so intelligent, but you see one thing it doesn't necessarily tell you what the other thing is going to be like at all--other than it's definitely going to have the imprimatur of his intelligence all over it. So when I first saw a few Frampton films I would try to imagine what other films I was reading about might be like, and I was completely wrong.
MHC: But isn't it fun to do that?

CP: It's totally fun to do that.
MHC: I'm still playing serious catch up with my education of the history of experimental film because I didn't realize that I wanted to make experimental film or had an interest in that work until the end of my undergrad years. My school was very much new media, digital filmmaking, and narrative--they have a satellite campus in LA--but I guess because experimental filmmakers have to be tied to academia because there's no commercial aspect to it, there was a few people at that school who exposed me to films. And then Mass Art [Massachusetts College of Art and Design] and Museum School [School of the Museum of Fine Arts], Mass Art particularly has film screenings and a film society, and I got exposed to some works there.

But I think, personally, in one of my early film classes I tried to do more like a diary film, a portrait of someone that was really important to me. And I got the footage back and it was just entirely too raw and too emotional. And up to this point I was learning about the optical printer, so that gave me a way to manipulate the footage and be an intermediary--I don't know, something in between what you're capturing in real life and the emotion that you're feeling--so I think that was my first attempt at making something like that, something more poetic and lyrical. And then I fell in love with that machine and I bought one. [laughs] I don't want to see the real world.

CP: Something to create a little filter between the real world and how you want to see it?
MHC: Yeah. Or at least see it in a different way. But like what you were saying about seeing Bruce Conner's works, even now, even though there's more of an abundance on the internet, Chick Strand just died, and I got to New York and I see two shows of hers or when Bruce Conner, too [who passed away in 2008], I saw work that I hadn't seen before. So you still have to wait. It makes it kind of fun, though.

CP: It does. There are still films I'm waiting to discover that are older than I am--which is one of the reason I was excited when I first heard about Magic Eye, as I guessed it was going to bring films and filmmakers to Baltimore that otherwise might not make it here. So you've been doing the series for about a year and a half now, right?
MHC: Yes.

CP: Remind me. Why did you start Magic Eye? What was the impetus behind doing it?
MHC: It was mainly just going to festivals and becoming friends with these people. And then following the program of venues like [Brooklyn, NY's] Light Industry, who are weekly doing amazing programs. And I would hear of somebody being in the area and just try to cold e-mail them and see if I could get them here. The first show was Robert Todd, who was a professor of mine in Boston, and he had a show in DC so it was like, If you're in the neighborhood . . . you should come.

CP: Have you met more people who are making films and involved in this process?
MHC: Definitely, because I can talk to them as a filmmaker or as a programmer, and it's been really great. People get excited and there's more of an exchange--you exchange DVDs and fun things come of that. But it's a pretty small world. And sometimes that could be bad--like, I don't know why it's removed from the larger art community. But the people who are involved care deeply and they talk about the work in a serious way, which I think is unique.

CP: I liken experimental filmmakers, particularly people who still work with celluloid, to poets.
MHC: Totally.

CP: You know, it can seem insular but they all kind of know each other and there's zero commercial outlets for any of this work at all. And it's funny you mention visual art, because it does feel true that in contemporary art people who do film or video, or even video installations, have bigger profiles than contemporary experimental cinema, which kind of baffles my mind. It's something that's been going on in America since the, what? The 1930s?
MHC: I know, it's really bizarre. A friend, Phil Solomon, who's coming in April--when this whole series started, off the top of my head the two people that I cared so much to bring were Bruce McClure and Phil Solomon. Bruce came a few months ago and now Phil's coming in April. But when we were in New York, everyone was at "Views from the Avant-Garde", but Phil was, like, there's more ideas per second in one of these films than there are in the video work we were going to see in galleries. And I do believe that, too.

The Magic Eye film series hits the Charles Theatre Feb. 22 at 9:30 p.m. featuring: Paul Sharits' 1968 "T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G" featuring the late David Franks; Stan Vanderbeak's 1963 "Breathdeath"; Fred Wordern's 1973 "Throbs" and 2006 "Bad Dream"; Stephanie Barber's 2009 "The Visit and the Play"; an excerpt from Kristen Anchor's 2009 "The Ends"; Kari Altmann's 2009 music video for Beach House's "10 Mile Stereo"; Mark Brown's 2009 music video for Ecstatic Sunshine's "Turned On"; Lauren Friedman's 2006 performance documentation "Figure Skating"; an excerpt Jenny Graf and Chiara Giovando's Proud Flesh; four hypnotic short shorts from Justin Kelly: "Flash Test," "Smoke Circle," "Laser Gong," and "Pinky Swear"; Andrew Mausert-Mooney's 2009 "Parapeti'em"; Jimmy Joe Roche's 2009 "Basement Bleeds"; Clarissa Gregory's 2007 "On the Shores of Lake Superior"; and a film by Karen Yasinsky.

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