Stan Brakhage’s Fire of Waters and sculpting in sound

Fire of Waters (1965) is one of Stan Brakhage’s more elusive films, even though it enjoys quite a good reputation among those familiar with it.  Its extremely striking, minimal, black and white imagery and very atypical and unusual use of sound make it fairly memorable, and yet it doesn’t seem to be as well recognized as one would expect.

Brakhage would continue to make films for another four decades, but Fire of Waters is actually one of his final black and white films, followed only by Song 12 (also 1965 and generally printed on color stock) and the even more elusive Sluice (1978).  The film’s overall comparatively spare minimalism prefigures some later works such as The Wold Shadow (1972) and Passage Through: A Ritual (1990), but it’s curiously out of step with the semi-maximalism of his other work of the early-mid ’60s (coming as it does right on the heels of Dog Star Man (1961-64)).

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out of sync / kinescopes / War is Hell

Picture/track synchronization is usually pretty important.  Even when a film doesn’t have actual recorded lip-sync dialogue, most films have a correct sync in their finished form, and obviously it’s an important thing for a preservationist to maintain and be observant of.  There’s a ton I could write about synching and sync problems, individual examples of weird or variable synchronization, or just the different ways we deal with sound sync in general, but for the time being, I’ll give this example, which is slightly atypical (at least in the world of experimental film – I have a feeling some TV archivists have seen this plenty of times!).

Many of you reading this probably know that usually, in film, sound and image are not only recorded separately, but also usually printed from separate picture and sound elements – these days, typically a picture negative and a track negative.  In the printing process, the picture element and the soundtrack element will usually have sync marks and/or hole punches at one or both ends of each which are used to match the separate picture and track rolls to the same printer start point, thus resulting in a new print with correct sound synchronization.

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Cube and Room Drawings (1977) by David Haxton

The restoration of David Haxton’s Cube and Room Drawings (1977) is one of the very few in which I’ve actually cut a filmmaker’s original.  In this case, the camera original is not the same as the “original” conformed printing master for the finished film, which was lost.  But the presence of the camera original footage for the film enabled me to restore it using some atypical approaches in printing and restoration.

Here’s David’s own description of the film:

Cube and Room Drawings begins with a view looking down at an angle toward grey paper covering the floor.  A performer enters from the back of the scene and begins drawing lines on the floor.  The lines are the beginning of a drawing of a distorted cube.  The performer leaves the scene.  The paper begins to rotate on the floor.  As the paper rotates the cube gradually becomes correctly oriented, as if it were drawn on a vertical piece of paper.  The performer enters again and draws another cube that corresponds to the perspective of the other cube.  After leaving and re-entering the performer draws red receding lines on the floor.  He leaves and the paper rotates and the red lines become a grid that corresponds to the vertical screen.  The film continues with several additional actions that continue this theme.”

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Will She Get Over It? (1971) by Mike Henderson + UC Davis students

I don’t know who the “she” is in the film’s title, nor what it is that “she” needs to get over.  At least as of this writing, I’ve have not seen this film.  And yet I’m in the process of restoring it.  This has happened more than once (see my post on Gary Beydler and Venice Pier).  In my experience of working on the restoration of experimental films, this isn’t the norm, but it’s not totally unusual.  And in the case of Mike Henderson’s films, it’s quite common.  Will She Get Over It? is a ca.1971 film made by Mike with students in the class he was teaching at UC Davis at the time.

Before I get to this film in particular, I thought I’d say a little bit about restoring something I haven’t seen.

First of all, the main reason for this to even occur is that there is no extant print of a given film.  For example, there may only be the original picture and sound masters, or an internegative.  So there’s no way to very easily watch the film before working on it.  In some cases, I’ve had a print, but only a print, i.e. the film only survives as a single print, and although I trust the Pageant 250S 16mm projector I generally use here for quick viewings, I usually feel it’s just not worth risking it.  This was the case with A.K. Dewdney’s film Wildwood Flower (1971), which only survived as a single distribution print, and which I did not screen before using that print as the source for the film’s preservation.

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

Later That Same Night (1971)

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.

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