Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Later That Same Night (1971) and Pastorale d'Ete (1959) by Will Hindle

Later That Same Night (1971) by Will Hindle

This'll be a somewhat basic post, covering two of the Will Hindle films I've been working on lately.  (Also working on Pasteur3 (1976), which will perhaps be covered later...)

I have a particular devotion to restoring Will's films, for various reasons.  One of those reasons is that Shellie Fleming is amazing and an inspiration to me, and it's the least I can do for someone to whom Will was such an important person.  Another is that I really love Will's work, and definitely think its reputation has waned dramatically over the past 35 years, to the point where not very many people today know his work anymore.  There are several reasons for this, which I may get into later or elsewhere, but they have nothing to do with the very high quality of the work itself.  Yet another is the nature of Will's collection - upon his sudden death, a lot of his originals were spread around at various labs, and his materials were in somewhat of a shambles.  Thanks to Shellie, a lot more was saved than otherwise would've been.  Also, a few things turned up at labs, still sitting in their vaults after 35 years.  But a lot of it was lost, including the originals for the two films I'm discussing here.  So Will's stuff has always seemed to me in dire need of care.

Pastorale d'Ete (1959) is Will's first completed personal film, and Later That Same Night (1971) is the first film he fully created and completed in Alabama, where he had planned to build (literally and conceptually) a sort of filmmaking workshop that would be open to other artists.

The originals for both are totally lost.  The last known location of the originals for Pastorale d'Ete was Deluxe Labs in Hollywood, and the last known location for Later That Same Night was MPL in Memphis.  Nothing ever turned up at either, and in fact MPL stated that any materials not claimed from their vaults were discarded.  The original mag soundtrack for Later That Same Night did actually survive in Will's collection, so I at least had access to the original mixed soundtrack in very good quality and condition.

Actually, if the originals for Later That Same Night HAD been available, they may not have been usable anyway.  The film uses a variety of stocks, and different processing techniques, including at least one section that seems to clearly have been cut into the originals on color print stock.  Most likely, several sequences in the originals would now be moderately-to-totally faded.  On the other hand, one 350ft. roll of outtakes that Shellie was able to save are all on 7242 Ektachrome EF daylight, and they look beautiful.

On the other hand, Pastorale d'Ete was shot on Kodachrome and what seems to be Plus-X b/w reversal.  900ft. of outtakes survive, all gorgeous, which is a huge bummer in light of what this says about how nice the cut original must've looked.

So, in order to preserve these films, we just had to work from the best surviving original prints.

In both cases, the best prints were housed at Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, thanks to a 1960s/70s collector who was particularly a fan of Will's work, and who bought a number of prints from him at that time.  She treated them very well, so they remained in quite nice condition, eventually going to PFA.  We borrowed these Kodachrome (7387) prints of the films from (the very gracious and helpful) PFA to work from, and they went to Colorlab for duplication.

The original mag and a different print of Later That Same Night were both transferred to provide a sound source and reference, respectively.  The mag sounded great, and did represent the correct final mix, which was a relief.  In the meantime, Colorlab made a new internegative from the PFA Kodachrome print.  We then supplied them a new track negative from the restored sound, and they made a new print, matching the Kodachrome print as closely as possible.  After two printing passes, it was approved.  And it DOES look great, but of course, duplicating Kodachrome is difficult due to its heavy saturation, contrast, density.  But I feel confident that Colorlab did as good a job as is possible, and it really does look excellent.

By the way, I'd like to say here - Later That Same Night always felt to me like a problem film, and a weaker one, in Will's filmography.  It was always one of my least favorites, though I still thought it was curious and interesting.  But looking at it a number of times now during this project, I've changed my mind quite a bit, and think it's quite good.  The soundtrack is fantastic, and the sound/image relationships in particular are powerful and unexpected.  As an experimental cinematic look at the generational, social, and political disenfranchisement of youth and youth culture in the late '60s/early '/70s, it's really powerful and sharp, and feels weirdly contemporary now, with definite resonances in the current interest in so-called freak folk and radical/alternative culture, aesthetics, and history.

As for Pastorale d'Ete - though the process here is similar to that of Later That Same Night, it's a bit more difficult.  The soundtrack is not so hard to deal with.  It's just a recording of the titular piece of music, by Honegger.  We transferred the audio from the same print we're using as a picture source.




Some frames scanned from outtakes of Pastorale d'Ete (1959)


The above images (sorry, I only currently have low res versions) give some idea of the classical beauty of Pastorale d'Ete, which is a very elegant and inspired California landscape film.

Unlike Later That Same Night, one of the challenges in duplicating the picture for this film lies in the problematic fact that Will shot the color portions of the film on Kodachrome, and also made his finished release prints on Kodachrome print stock.  As a result, the Kodachrome prints are very saturated, and more contrasty than Kodachrome prints made from Ektachrome or other lower contrast originals (such as Later That Same Night).  Colorlab's first stab at an internegative was deemed too contrasty to work with.  It was made on the recently discontinued 3272 internegative stock, which has now been replaced by 3273, which is essentially a polyester version of the 50D camera negative stock.  As of this writing, the second try at a usable internegative is in progress.  I have to say, looking at the camera original outtakes for this film is depressing, as it gives me an idea of how nicely the preservation work would come out if we actually had the film's camera original to work from.

A few more images from Later That Same Night:




Monday, June 11, 2012

Studies in Chronovision (1975) by Louis Hock


The preservation of Louis Hock’s Studies in Chronovision (1975) was fairly simple.  I had been interested in Louis’s films for some time, but hadn’t talked to him about depositing them at the archive until only about 2010 or so, thanks to the help and instigation of my buddy Vera Brunner-Sung, who’d been working with Louis down in San Diego.

Louis periodically comes up to L.A., so once he’d decided to deposit his films, he brought them up in a few separate carloads when he was visiting up here anyway.

I had never seen Studies in Chronovision before he brought his films in, but had read some intriguing and complimentary references to it here and there.  Once I finally got to see it, I found it one of the more interesting, beautiful, and expressive time lapse films I could remember seeing.  And given the fact that the camera original had been discarded by Louis (due to extreme color fading and deterioration), it seemed like an obvious preservation candidate.

As I mentioned, the 16mm reversal camera original was gone, having faded badly over the years.  I don’t know for sure, but this is almost definitely because it was filmed on the dreaded 7252 Ektachrome Commercial (ECO) stock.  When Kodak reformulated ECO from 7255 to 7252 in 1970, it may have improved the stock for production use at that time, but it would prove devastating for filmmakers and archivists down the line, as its color fades badly, pretty much without exception.

All that otherwise survived for Louis’s film was a 1970s internegative made from the original, and two reversal prints, both on 7387 (Kodachrome) print stock.  The two prints were in good physical shape, and with completely stable color.  Kodachrome famously – and very unlike 7252 – is incredibly color-stable. 

One of the prints was a bit warmer and more magenta than the other.  Louis and I compared the two prints on a bench, and he indicated his preference for the cooler of the two prints as more accurately reflecting how the film should look.

Also, the film is silent, so no sound work was needed.

From here, the process was pretty easy.  I got the internegative and the preferred Kodachrome print to FotoKem Lab in Burbank, and asked them to print the internegative, matching the supplied Kodachrome print as a reference.  In the 1970s, it was common for internegatives (from reversal originals) to be a ‘one-light’, meaning the color correction/timing was already built into the internegative, and striking a print from it could be done at a single set of printing lights, rather than numerous timing changes from scene to scene.  This was generally accomplished by answer printing the reversal original to reversal print stock, possibly multiple times with corrections, and, upon approval of the reversal answer print, those timing settings would be built into the internegative.  If a filmmaker planned to make several prints of their film, it would be ultimately cheaper to make an internegative, as release prints off a single-strand internegative would be notably cheaper than release prints off an A/B –rolled reversal original.

When printing one of these ‘one-light’ internegatives these days, they may require a bit of extra timing, due to the changes in film stocks and the fact that a different lab with different printers is now printing it.  But generally they’re not too tough to time.

Since Louis’s internegative was made as a one-light negative, a minimum of timing was needed at FotoKem, making the printing job a check print rather than an answer print.  At FotoKem, a check print generally means a minimum of timing effort is needed, and it’s quite a bit cheaper than an answer print.  An answer print job could require not just a lot of timing changes throughout the negative, but also potentially a few passes of the negative, making multiple prints with corrected timing changes until the results are to the filmmaker’s liking.

Once approved, an interpositive was made from the internegative, and an additional two release prints.  This was a pretty basic preservation, as no additional internegative was made at this time.  Though it’s always nice to have as many protection elements as possible, it didn’t seem necessary at this time to make a new internegative from the new interpositive.  The only preservation benefit to having a new internegative would be to double the number of newly made elements.  The internegative otherwise doesn’t offer any additional archival stability (it and the IP would both be the same stock, 3242), and no other prints are needed at this time.  Louis isn’t really focused on circulating 16mm prints of his older works, so the three new prints made seem like enough for now.  If additional prints are needed down the line, a new internegative will be made from the interpositive, to avoid over-printing the original internegative (which is now, practically speaking, the original).

Friday, June 8, 2012

Neuron (1972) by Robert Russett


NEURON (1972)

A quick update (9/3/2013) - since I now have a couple of stills of the film, I thought I'd add them to the post, though I'll leave the photos from Robert's book (below), as they give a better sense of what happens in the film on a frame-by-frame basis.


...

Sorry I don't have proper stills of the film handy - instead, here are a few photos of film strips taken from Robert Russett's book, Robert Russett: A Retrospective Survey:






I have to thank the wonderful Michelle Puetz for turning me onto Robert Russett’s films.  Her enthusiasm for them really encouraged me to seek them (and him) out, eventually bringing his collection to the film archive in 2011 after a couple of years of correspondence and discussion.

Various originals for the films of Robert Russett as they arrived in 2011.
Robert has been based in Louisiana for decades, making (I believe) just about all of his films there.  Though stylistically diverse, and employing a number of different aesthetic styles and techniques, there’s a consistency of vision which is really deeply intelligent, and even, I would say, startling.  His abstract works (Brain Field, Primary Stimulus, Neuron, etc.) are intense and powerful, and employ unusual visual motifs and techniques to investigate (I would NOT say “play with”) the deeper recesses of perception and cognition.  The rephotography-based films (Aprés-Midi, L’Acadie, etc.) are lyrical, but dark and searching, unsettling and elegiac.

All of Robert’s films were made in reversal.  With a few early exceptions, his color films were all made in Ektachrome, and usually printed on Ektachrome print stocks (primarily 7390).  The use of Ektachrome over Kodachrome (in both shooting and printing) gave somewhat less saturated, more delicate results, which Robert favored.  Early attempts at making internegatives for the films failed as well, giving results that Robert felt simply didn’t capture the intended look of the films at all, particularly with the rephotography pieces.

With improvements in Kodak’s internegative and print stocks since the 1970s, and particularly with the high quality lab work available at specialty labs like Colorlab (where I’m working on Neuron), I was pretty confident we could get results with new internegatives that Robert would be happy with. 

As of this writing, the work on Neuron is nearly done, but still in progress.  Colorlab should be sending me a print the week of June 11th.

The film, which is about six minutes long, is made up of two halves, more or less.  The first half is black and white, shot on Tri-X, the second half is a color articulation of some of the motifs introduced in the first half.  Robert may correct me, but it looked to me to be on 7389 Ektachrome print stock, possibly printed via some multi-part color additive process.  The imagery of the film consists of different ‘windows’ containing what could perhaps be described as op art patterns, which move and transform rapidly, with recurring flicker patterns.  The soundtrack is a repetitive, insistent, ratchety sound which crackles with nervous, propulsive energy.

The original for the film is cut into a single printing roll, an A-roll only, and is in great condition, with no damage.  The color half has some very mild color shifting, but nothing we can’t fix in timing.  The goal in printing the picture is to get the black and white to look as black and white as possible on the color print stock, as well as match the colors as well as possible to the extant Ektachrome prints.  After I get an approved print, it’ll go to Robert as well, for his evaluation.

Although the picture presents some minor challenges, the sound is really where this project gets unique.

As I mentioned above, the soundtrack contains a repetitive motif which is (as far as I can tell) consistent and unchanging for the duration of the film.  The original sound elements I received from Robert were an original 1/4” tape, a 16mm fullcoat mag track, conformed to the original, and an optical track negative.

All contained the same recorded content, but the optical track differed in one regard that brought the sound restoration of the film into the realm of the unusual.

Here’s a picture taken of the original track negative, in a section at the climax of the film, near its very end:


As would be the standard thing to do, the track negative was shot from the conformed 16mm mag, and contains the same audio content.  However, in the course of finishing the film, Robert decided the track needed a little extra element near the very end of the film, to amp things up at that moment and heighten the film’s intensity.  Having at least some interest already in experiments in graphical, synthetic sound (taken to a fantastic level with his 1977 film Primary Stimulus), Robert decided to add these adhesive line patterns – 28 little pieces of them in all – directly to the track negative itself.  The result is that all prints of the film made from that track negative would have these line patterns printed in, which, when shown on a projector, emit a rapid beeping sound at the film’s climax, on top of the existing recorded track.

Although it would perhaps be a bit easier in doing the film’s sound restoration, to re-recorded the sound from this track negative and create a restored track with those beeps built in, to create a “fool proof” version of the film’s soundtrack, I felt that this would be a conceptually impure approach.  The graphical, synthetic, NON-recorded element of the track would be lost, the evidence of this technique and conceptual approach would be absorbed and normalized, neutralized in the film’s reprinting. 

Thankfully, when Robert sent his originals to the archive, the elements for Neuron came with the following envelope: 


As long as these adhesive patterns still had their stickiness, I knew I’d be able to recreate the process that Robert had first performed 40 years before.  (In case anyone’s wondering why I didn’t just use Robert’s existing track negative to make new prints, it’s because the original track negative is B-wind, for printing with the original, whereas I needed an A-wind track negative, for printing with the new internegative.)

Backing up a bit, the sound restoration was done by transferring the original 16mm mag, checking it against a transfer of a vintage print to make sure it synched exactly (which it did), then performing only a little EQ and fixing a few dropouts that had developed in the mag over time.  Then a new A-wind track negative was made for printing with the internegative.  A 35mm preservation mag and digital backups were made as well, on which we also included the transfer of the reference print, just in case.
  
With the new track negative and an envelope of sticky adhesive line pattern bits on the bench, I lined up Robert’s original track negative and the new track negative exactly, and marked off the areas I’d need to apply the patterns on the new track.  I tested one of the sticky patterns on another piece of film, and it stuck fine, so I proceeded to stick them onto the new track negative like so:





28 stickers later, I cleaned the track up with a little bit of film cleaner, let the whole thing sit for a bit, then rewound it and sent it to Colorlab for printing.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Taking requests.

After some delay (with no good excuse), I present here a list of films I've been working on preserving/restoring over the past year or two.  A lot of these are finished, but a number of them are still in progress, some further along than others.  Feel free to make requests on any specific film you'd like me to write about, and I'll do my best to do so.  In the interests of me not being overwhelmed, please limit your requests to no more than, say, two titles.   Some projects can be summarized really easily and briefly, some are a lot more involved.  And although I did go over this list pretty closely to make sure they're all things I would/can write about, I reserve the right to change my mind about writing on certain films.  Just leave your requests in the comments!

In the meantime, for the heck of it, here's a quick n dirty scan of an intended original titlecard for Ed Emshwiller's film Thanatopsis, before it was called Thanatopsis.  I don't believe it was ever released with this title:



THE ACT OF SEEING WITH ONE’S OWN EYES (Stan Brakhage, 1971)
ANGIE (ADAM BECKETT FX ROLL) (Adam Beckett/Deirdre Cowden, 1976)
ANSELMO (Chick Strand, 1967)
ANTICIPATION OF THE NIGHT (Stan Brakhage, 1958)
ASPARAGUS (Suzan Pitt, 1979)
THE ASSIGNATION (Curtis Harrington, 1953)
BABOBILICONS (Daina Krumins, 1982)
BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN (Scott Stark, 1997)
BACKGROUND (Carmen D’Avino, 1973)
BATH (Penelope Spheeris, 1969)
THE BEARD (Robert Nelson, 1967)
BOOK OF DEAD (Victor Faccinto, 1978)
BY THE LAKE (Chick Strand, 1986)
CATFILM FOR KATY & CYNNIE (Standish Lawder, 1973)
CHOPPERS (Chris Langdon, ca.1976)
COLOR FRAGMENTS (Elwood Decker, 1948)
COLORFILM (Ben Van Meter, 1965)
CRYSTALS (Elwood Decker, 1951)
CUE ROLLS (Morgan Fisher, 1974)
THE DEAD (Stan Brakhage, 1960)
DEUS EX (Stan Brakhage, 1971)
THE DIVINE MIRACLE (Daina Krumins, 1973)
THE DOODLERS (Kathy Rose, 1975)
ECLIPSE PREDICTIONS (Diana Wilson, 1982)
EXPERIMENTS IN MOTION GRAPHICS (John Whitney, 1967-68)
EYES (Stan Brakhage, 1971)
THE FIVE BAD ELEMENTS (Mark LaPore, 1997)
FURIES (Sara Petty, 1977)
GRATUITOUS FACTS (Tom Leeser, 1981)
THE GREAT SADNESS OF ZOHARA (Nina Menkes, 1983)
HATS OFF TO HOLLYWOOD (Penelope Spheeris, 1972)
THE HOG FARM MOVIE (David Lebrun, 1970)
I DON’T KNOW (Penelope Spheeris, 1970)
INTEGRATOR (Richard Taylor, 1966)
INTERVIEW WITH AN ARTIST (Chris Langdon, 1975)
LATER THAT SAME NIGHT (Will Hindle, 1971)
LIGHT MODULATORS (Elwood Decker, 1948)
LOUD VISUAL NOISES (silent version) (Stan Brakhage, 1987)
LOUD VISUAL NOISES (sound version) (Stan Brakhage, 1987)
LOVING (Stan Brakhage, 1957)
MADAME MAO’S LOST LOVE LETTERS (Tom Leeser & Diana Wilson, 1983)
MAGDALENA VIRAGA (Nina Menkes, 1986)
MANZANAR (Robert Nakamura, 1971)
ME & BRUCE & ART (Ben Van Meter, 1968)
MICRO 2 (Elwood Decker, 1952)
MOVIE STILLS (J.J. Murphy, 1978)
NEURON (Robert Russett, 1972)
NOW PLAYING (Susan Rosenfeld, 1983)
NOW THAT THE BUFFALO’S GONE (Burton C. Gershfield, 1967)
OLDS-MO-BILE (Ben Van Meter, 1965)
OMEGA (Donald Fox, 1970)
OPPOSING VIEWS (Tom Leeser, 1980)
OUR LADY OF THE ANGELS PART I: ENTRANCE ENTRANCE (Chris Regan, 1976)
OUR LADY OF THE ANGELS PART IV: EXIT (Chris Regan, ca.1980)
PASSAGE THROUGH: A RITUAL (Stan Brakhage, 1990)
PASTORALE D’ÉTÉ (Will Hindle, 1959)
PENCIL BOOKLINGS (Kathy Rose, 1978)
PHOTOGRAMMETRY SERIES (Louis Hock, 1977)
PICTURE AND SOUND RUSHES (Morgan Fisher, 1973)
PICTURE WITHOUT SOUND (Susan Rosenfeld, 1976)
PRELUDE (Curtis Opliger, 1950)
PRINT GENERATION (J.J. Murphy, 1974)
PROGETTI (Paul Bartel, 1962)
REFLECTIONS ON BLACK (Stan Brakhage, 1955)
RENEE WALKING/TV TALKING (Tom Leeser, 1980)
THE ROCKING CHAIR FILM (Mike Henderson, ca.1972)
SELECTIVE SERVICE SYSTEM (Warren Haack, 1970)
SEÑORA CON FLORES / WOMAN WITH FLOWERS (Chick Strand, 1995/2011)
SHIT (Penelope Spheeris, 1969)
SHOPPERS MARKET (John Vicario, 1963)
SILENT REVERSAL (Louis Hock, 1972)
SIRIUS REMEMBERED (Stan Brakhage, 1959)
SOFT FICTION (Chick Strand, 1979)
SOME DON’T (Ben Van Meter, 1964)
SOPHISTICATED VAMP (Lynn Fayman, 1958)
STILL LIVES (Louis Hock, 1975)
STUDIES IN CHRONOVISION (Louis Hock, 1975)
SYNTHESIS (Penelope Spheeris, 1968)
THIS IS THE BRAIN OF OTIS CRAWFIELD (Chris Langdon, 1973)
UNDER THE JUGGERNAUT (Robert Russett, 1969)
VERY & NIGHT MULCH (Stan Brakhage, 2001)
WAR IS HELL (Robert Nelson & William Allan, 1968)
WAR ZONE (Neon Park, 1971)
WHITNEY BROTHERS – 1ST HOME MOVIE / THREE UNTITLED FILMS (John & James Whitney, 1941)
WHY MAN CREATES (Saul Bass, 1968)
WILDWOOD FLOWER (A.K. Dewdney, 1971)
WINDOW WATER BABY MOVING (Stan Brakhage, 1959)
WONG SINSAANG (Eddie Wong, 1971)
YIN HSIEN (Michael Whitney, 1976)

Monday, March 19, 2012

A million projects.

I'm working on a million preservation/restoration projects right now, the vast majority of which are independent/experimental/artists' films. I was thinking of posting a list of a bunch of them here, and having folks who are interested pick a couple of titles that interest them, and I'll write a blog post about what's going on with those specific projects, archivally speaking. I would probably throw in some production info on the films too, in cases where I have info worth repeating.

So hopefully this would not only be of potential interest to fans of this sort of thing, but also would give me "homework", which I think would compel me to be a bit better about writing out descriptions of each project, something I'm a bit behind on at that moment.

What do you think? I'd have to limit it, though. Can't write on a ton of 'em! Some will be very basic, some will be very elaborate. Comments?

In the meantime, here's a picture of the inside of a can that contained a print of Confrontation at Kent State (1970) by Richard Myers et al.




Friday, February 24, 2012

Stan Brakhage's Two Negatives.


Here's a picture of the can that contained the original negative for Stan Brakhage's late film Max (2002), a loving portrait of the family cat. It's a lovely film, but it's fair to say that it's not necessarily a particularly well-known or widely acclaimed work from Stan. But what does make it particularly significant is that it is one of only two films that Stan ever shot and finished on negative, and the ONLY film he ever shot and finished on color negative.

For anyone reading who may not be familiar with film stocks and their history, it was far more common for 16mm independent/experimental filmmakers to shoot and finish in reversal film than in negative film until about the 1980s. Reversal film essentially refers to film that, when shot and processed, yields a positive (rather than negative) image. The earliest 16mm film stocks (beginning in 1923) were reversal, as they were primarily designed for amateur use - the filmmaker would shoot a movie, process the film, and then be able to project the original directly.

Kodak's first widely marketed color film, Kodachrome, was also reversal, as was its later counterpart, Ektachrome. In fact, if my research serves me right, Kodak didn't even offer a color negative camera stock for general sale in 16mm until 1963-64 (though 16mm black and white negative existed for quite some time before this). Even after this, so-called experimental filmmakers didn't very commonly use 16mm color negative, likely for a few reasons.

It was, at the time, more expensive. There were also, at the time, many more film stock options in reversal than in negative. There were even three different reversal print stocks co-existing throughout the 1970s. It was also harder to edit for filmmakers who did their own cutting - one would likely have to edit a workprint and then match the negative to the workprint, and for some, I imagine the abstraction of the negative image was not as intuitive to work with. Finally, it could also be that negative stocks' tendencies to be more easily scratched and dirtied, and the increased and potentially distracting visibility of negative dirt and damage (appearing as white rather than black in a projection print) may have dissuaded some from working with it.

Two of the very few experimental filmmakers I can think of that shot color negative as early as the late 1960s/early 1970s are Morgan Fisher (Documentary Footage, 1968), Chris Langdon (Bondage Girl, 1973; Love Hospital Trailer, 1975).

From my work on Stan Brakhage's films, it's quite clear that Stan seemed to strive for prints that mirrored his cut original. In other words, he wanted the projection prints to look as closely like his originals as possible - what he saw in editing was what he wanted to get on screen. Stan also famously eschewed workprints in any form, preferring to directly cut his originals, considering the idea of cutting a workprint and then slavishly matching the original to it to be more or less impossible for him - "...my nature is such that when I got to the original I would not be able to just match edge numbers, I would make another whole film." (Q&A at Millennium, 2/19/1972)

Working in negative was counterintuitive to this editing approach. However, he did shoot and cut one early film on black and white negative: Day Break and White Eye, from 1957, a transitional sound film that, though very interesting, doesn't screen very much. (Commonly listed in print as "Daybreak and Whiteye", the title as I've written it initially here is how it actually appears on screen.)

Day Break and White Eye actually has quite a bit of cutting in it, all done to the original b/w negative, from which prints were then made. By contrast, Max consists of a single, uncut, 7279 500T camera negative roll, with b/w titles spliced to the beginning and end.

(I should mention here that although Stan only shot and finished two of his films on negative, a lot of the originals for his optically printed painted films are color negatives, such as Chartres Series (1994), Stellar (1993), or Black Ice (1994), among dozens of others. However, these optically conformed negatives were entirely the result of optical printing work from original painted film, undertaken by Sam Bush at Western Cinema Lab according to Stan's instructions. Later painted films made following Sam's departure from the lab were printed to Kodachrome by Mary Beth Reed, Phil Solomon, or Stan himself, as with Preludes 1-6 (1996), Micro-Garden (2001), or Lovesong 5 & Lovesong 6 (2001).)

None of this is to say that Stan only shot 16mm negative on these two occasions. As far back as the 1960s, he began to periodically shoot or print onto color negative, to be used in either of two different ways. In some cases, the negative would be incorporated into a positive original as-is, i.e. as an orange-masked, color negative image treated as positive, as with films like Scenes From Under Childhood (1967) and the Sincerity films (1973-80). Sometimes the negative would be printed, and the resulting print would be cut into the originals, sometimes alongside its negative counterpart (as in The Process (1972), Tortured Dust (1984), and Agnus Dei Kinder Synapse (1991)).

In the late 1980s, as the range of reversal stocks diminished and fewer labs could process and print them, Stan began to shoot quite a bit of color negative. However, rather than shoot negative and cut and finish on negative, he would instead shoot negative, print it, and then use this print as his original. The color print would be treated in the same way as reversal, as a positive original which Stan would edit and complete in positive. The lab would then make an internegative from this cut original so that prints could be struck.

The originals for quite a few films from this period incorporate color print this way (usually 7384 and 7386 print stocks). Some films are entirely or nearly entirely color print originals, such as The Thatch of Night (1990), Visions in Meditation #1 (1989), Boulder Blues and Pearls And... (1993), and Delicacies of Molten Horror Synapse (1991). Other films incorporate a diverse mix of color print, Kodachrome, Ektachrome, and other stocks, such as Visions in Meditation #2 (1989), The Mammals of Victoria (1994), and The Cat of the Worm's Green Realm (1997).

One interesting by-product of this filmmaking approach is the increased presence of both positive and negative dirt/damage in the films that incorporate color print stock. As Stan used what was most likely just dry-gate dailies in his editing of color print, there is usually some noticeable negative dirt printed into the color positive stock. Additionally, while Ektachrome and especially Kodachrome were fairly resilient to scratching during his editing process, the color print stock was softer and more susceptible to damage, so (usually) green and yellow emulsion marks and scratches are often visible in these films. If you have volume 2 of Criterion's 'by Brakhage' DVD series, you can spot these qualities in some of the aforementioned films.

Original picture roll for Tortured Dust (part 2) (1984), showing (L-to-R) one frame of Kodachrome, two frames of faded color print, three frames of color negative. Also on display here is Stan's signature technique of splicing in 2 frames of black leader at every single cut of a film.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Goodbye, Bob.

Robert Nelson (1930-2012)

Can't really express at all how very sad I am to report that Robert Nelson has died. He was 81. He had been diagnosed with terminal cancer about a year ago, and had decided to not receive treatment, to go out in his own way, as he could only do, as Chick Strand had decided to do before him.

All things considered, Bob was doing pretty well all year, actually. He had moments, sometimes days, of fatigue and feeling kind of lousy, but had plenty of good days too. I last spoke to him about a week ago and we talked about meeting up soon. He sounded great, and was as sharp as ever. So when I got the call from Wiley today, the news was a bit of a shock to me, as Bob had still seemed so vital and alive a week before.

He hadn’t been taking any medication or treatment beyond the herbal kind, and had continued to live on his own in the mountains in the small house he built in gorgeous Mendocino County. An inimitably homespun and offhand philosopher, he would say things to me like, “what the hell, I’ve had a good run.” I made him some CDs to check out a few months ago, and after he’d listened to and enjoyed them a few times he unexpectedly sent them back, saying “they were really good, I just don’t want to accumulate any more shit.”

Bob has easily been one of the most important people in my life, a massive source of influence, inspiration, support, friendship, and good company for the past ten years. His films are still huge for me. and will be til I die.

I sought him out in 2001 when I worked at Canyon Cinema. I had seen Bleu Shut and Hot Leatherette, and they had both knocked me out, especially Bleu Shut. At the time, my friend Martha was a preservationist at the Academy Film Archive in L.A., and she and I concocted a proposal for Bob and the Academy to start getting his filmography preserved, film by film. After he answered my initial letter, Bob and I had exchanged a few more letters (he was a great letter-writer) without yet meeting. One day without warning, he just strolled into the Canyon office on Third. Dominic hadn’t seen him in a few years at least, and said, almost in shock, “…Well hi, Bob!” Bob and I met, had lunch and talked about the archiving thing, and a deal was hatched. He was still very skeptical about the value of his work and his own desire for people to even see the films, but a project at the Academy was worked out, and Martha preserved The Off-Handed Jape and Deep Westurn right away, with Bob still not really wanting the films to see the light of day. I took over when I was hired to replace her in ’03, when she left to work in Tanzania, and have worked on a bunch of ‘em since then.

Over the years, a certain visceral block about his films, a desire to destroy many of them or at least keep them withdrawn from view, loosened and relented, in some cases title by title. I worked on him to do screenings, and though he wouldn’t initially appear in person, he approved the occasional showing of individual films starting in late 2003. In 2004, with Craig Baldwin’s help, we were able to do a 3-day retrospective at Other Cinema, with Bob in person, which marked a big change in his attitude about the work. The voluminous positive feedback from audiences I was able to pass on encouraged him more and more to lighten up about it all. He started making appearances, including some brilliant ones at Oberhausen, Vienna, and elsewhere. He even started working on several new films (left uncompleted) in 2007 or so, one of which was a collaboration we discussed at length, and which I hope I can actually complete now.

I was always thrilled to pass word along to him about how much one or more of his films had influenced someone I’d met, because by the 1990s, he had gotten really apathetic about a lot of them. But the interest in his films over the past ten years was something he really enjoyed, and he came around to re-embracing many of his own films. (Some of them remained to him nausea-inducing failures, though. Mention What Do You Talk About? or The Beard, and he would groan.) He was thrilled his work still resonated with people, or just made them laugh. Sometimes younger filmmakers would track him down and send him their work, and he always looked at it with a fresh, critical gaze, responding with his genuine and thoughtful reactions, which sometimes led to extended correspondences.

I always found him incredibly open, curious, wise, attentive, interested. He was just so fucking great to hang out with. How many people over 30 (let alone 80) still approach life, conversation, questions, EVERYTHING, with a completely open, curious mind, capable of considering and reconsidering, changing, reorienting…? Even in screening Q&As, when asked a question about Bleu Shut or Blondino that he’d probably been asked dozens of times before, he would seriously consider the question and try to give a unique, thoughtful answer. He was so full of consideration and wisdom, always gave me (and others) great advice.

So many filmmakers are filmmakers in some way or other because of Bob (among them Peter Hutton, Fred Worden, Chris Langdon, Curt McDowell, Mike Henderson, numerous others). Peter once told me that when he saw Bob’s films for the first time, his reaction was “wait, you can make movies like that?”, and started making films himself. David Wilson (of Museum of Jurassic Technology fame) was deeply inspired by The Awful Backlash, and wasn’t the only one to have that reaction. Bob named the classic film Near the Big Chakra, with his gift for evocative titles. Bob could also be burtally honest about someone’s work, because he felt a friend was due that honesty and respect, even if it cost him a few friendships. Bob was the person I was most nervous and yet most eager to show my own films, and his positive, thoughtful reactions meant something immeasurable to me, as did the criticism of one film of mine he thought was a stinker.

When an artist dies, the inevitable retrospectives follow. But that’s OK. Bob was happy to have his work rediscovered, and thrilled that anybody still found it entertaining, funny, enlightening, whatever. I already miss him deeply, but am excited that his films (and his spirit, a very palpable, inextricable part of them) are, and will continue to be, very much with us.

If anyone would like to send any thoughts, reminiscences, testimonials, etc. about Bob or his work to me, I’d be happy to share them with his family and friends.

Bob Nelson, ca. mid-1960s


Bob Nelson in Oberhausen, 2006 (photo by Mark Toscano)


Original poster for the premiere of The Great Blondino (1967)


Bob in The Off-Handed Jape (1967)


Shooting The Great Blondino (1967) in San Francisco. (Bob is on the left, Wiley on the right.)


Production still from Oh Dem Watermelons (1965)


Bob in Bleu Shut (1970)


Still from Hauling Toto Big (1997)



Bob in Blondino costume in The Great Blondino Preview (1967)