"Radical Light" surveys a half-century of Bay Area alternative film and video
Though wildly eclectic in form and content, the "Radical Light" films cohere around a widespread distrust of moral authority, whether political or aesthetic, as well as an abiding interest in the bending truths of portraiture, documentary, ethnography, and found footage. The anarchic and mystical are preferred modes, though not mutually exclusive ones. There is a long tradition of collaboration between filmmakers and, perhaps more strikingly, with poets, painters, and musicians. To cite but a few examples: Larry Jordan's Visions of a City (1979, begun 1957) is drawn from material shot to accompany readings by Michael McClure and Philip Lamantia; Bruce Conner did lightshows at the old Avalon Ballroom before making music videos for Devo and documenting the Mabuhay Gardens punk scene; and Brakhage made In Between (1955) while living with Robert Duncan and Jess (and set the film to a John Cage composition). Early "Art in Cinema" habitués like Jordan Belson, Harry Smith, and James Broughton all approached film from different mediums, and later artists like Nathaniel Dorsky, Warren Sonbert, and Konrad Steiner explored the poetic or musical resonances of moving images. It runs the other way too — unsurprisingly, it takes someone like poet Bill Berkson to get Dorsky's films in a (parenthetical) nutshell: "(Without being stupid about it, Dorsky really seems to put every conscious instant up against the growth chart of Eternity.)"
Indeed, all these films burn brightly as you watch. Witness all the different ways in which the makers seek to alter the cinematic experience, turning it into a Zen monastery (Dorsky), paranoid classroom (Craig Baldwin), troubled innerspace (Gunvor Nelson), innocent grindhouse (George and Mike Kuchar), confessional (Lynn Hershman Leeson), firing squad (Maclaine), astral plain (Belson), cross-examination (Trinh T. Minh-ha), beat street (Dion Vigne), all-night roadhouse (Conner), "unguided playground" (how Ernie Gehr described the images in his 1991 film, Side/Walk/Shuttle, two weeks ago), and on and on. If "Radical Light"'s chronologically-based film programs serve an informative purpose similar to the well-labeled sectioning of a botanical garden, the thematic programs come off more as a noisy farmers market where the full variety of produce jams a narrow aisle. As always, the fruit tastes best when you know where it came from.
RADICAL LIGHT: ALTERNATIVE FILM AND VIDEO IN THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA
Through April 30, 2011, $5.50–$10
(Book launch Fri/15, 7:30 p.m.)
Pacific Film Archive
2575 Bancroft, Berk.
Berkeley Art Museum
2626 Bancroft, Berk.