Five films by Adam Beckett (1973-75) / FIFTEEN YEARS? part 4: 2006

Flesh Flows (1974)

I had seen at least a few of visionary animator Adam Beckett’s films when I worked at Canyon Cinema. The iotaCenter put out an extensive DVD of his work a few years ago, and I should say very clearly up front that I was able to work on Adam’s incredible films thanks to iota, as they had negotiated with Adam’s family to move the films to the Academy and also applied for funding from NFPF so the films could be restored, so thanks much to them for that. Additionally, iota founder Larry Cuba, who had known Adam at CalArts in the ‘70s, is a big fan and even owned a couple of prints of Adam’s films, both of which ended up being quite helpful in the restoration of his films (more on that below).

So much could be said about Adam Beckett as an artist, as a person, as a near-mythological figure, but though I’ve learned a lot about him from his films (and working on them), and from numerous friends of his, I’m not really the one to say it (Pam Turner is), and plus that’s not really what this website is about! But let it just be said that he genuinely pioneered some visionary techniques in animation and image manipulation that are still being used today by special effects artists and independent animators. Although his drawing style and animation thinking was utterly virtuosic, his particularly visionary innovation was to use the optical printer in combination with his animation to extrapolate his images and forms into incredibly elaborate, kaleidoscopic, psychedelic phantasmagorias. His memory and legacy are still very strong with effects whizzes like Richard Edlund, Richard Taylor, and Robbie Blalack; esteemed friends and mentors like Pat O’Neill, Roberta Friedman, Beth Block, Sky David, David and Diana Wilson, and Chris Casady; and younger animators who’ve been inspired by Adam’s utterly unique and boundary pushing work, like Jim Trainor, Henry Selick, Jodie Mack, and Helder Sun. (These are just a paltry few of the names in each category – Adam Beckett’s memory and legacy are pretty large in the world of experimental animation.)

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more nasty splicing tape (+ Ben Van Meter)

Here’s an OLD tape splice on a 1965 7387 Kodachrome print of Ben Van Meter’s Up Tight… L.A. is Burning… Shit (1965):

Some brands or batches of splicing tape can have the effect you see here, often developing over many years, which is a kind of tarnishing of the silver in the print’s soundtrack.  Thankfully, it seems to be the minority of splicing tape stock that can have this deleterious effect, at least based on my own observations over the years.  Also based on those observations, this reaction seems to only really affect the silver in film, which is why it’s visible in the soundtrack here, but not the image, because even though the image is black and white, it’s on color (Kodachrome) print stock. Color prints are typically bleached of their silver content so only the color dyes remain, while conversely the silver would be retained in the soundtrack area to ensure a nice, dense, even track exposure, for consistent and good quality sound reproduction.

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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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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.

RIP Kodachrome

What is there to be said? News articles abound, generally containing accurate info about this very, very special film stock. Kodak announced its discontinuation on June 22, 2009, and the last day you can get your Kodachrome processed (by the indefatigable Dwayne’s Photo) is today, Thursday, December 30, 2010.

The photo above shows the one and only roll of 16mm Kodachrome I ever managed to shoot in my life. I bought it a few years ago before I even owned a 16mm camera, and shot it only a month ago or so, and just sent it to Dwayne’s two days ago. Very curious about how it’ll come out. I also sent six Super 8 rolls, from which I expect varying levels of successful/unsuccessful processing – one of them was shot in 1986 by me as a kid, one was shot in 2007 on stock from 1984, and the rest are of more recent vintage, but stored inconsistently over the last couple of years. Hopefully there will be some positive surprises.

In my restoration work, Kodachrome can present some unique issues in duplication via internegative, particularly because it’s a direct projection stock, i.e. meant to be viewed/projected as an original. Its higher contrast and unique image qualities mean special steps have to be taken for its successful duplication. Some labs flash the internegative slightly and then pull two stops, to lower contrast. Or one stop. Or 1.5 stops. Or …? I’m sure there are other tricks of the trade employed at various facilities sensitive to the special needs of Kodachrome, some of them perhaps proprietary secrets…

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