Film Restoration Art: Robert Nelson

As I mentioned in my post on 6/25/18, I’ve asked a number of artist friends to send me images responding to the theme of “film restoration” or perhaps “experimental film restoration”.  I’ll be posting the results here and there over the next few weeks (and beyond).

Given my post from yesterday about Robert Nelson and the restoration of his film Limitations, I thought I’d begin this recurring feature with an art object from Robert Nelson himself.

Bob was also a painter, photographer, and sculptor, and he drew and collaged and worked in other mediums as well, beyond being a filmmaker.  In his last 15 years or so, one form of sculpture he got into was making poured resin objects, with painted embellishments, with the basis of the forms usually being tightly wound rolls of film!

These rolls were usually bad prints, outtakes, and possibly even the original A/B rolls for a few of his films which he decided to destroy (or “transform” might be a better word).  I’ve previously described these objects here but wanted to post images of the one that he actually made for me.  I don’t remember when he sent me this, but it was around 2008-10, I think, a big heavy box out of nowhere.  He referred to it as “a gift for an archivist”, and I thought it was a perfect introduction to this idea of “film restoration art”.


Limitations (1987-88) by Robert Nelson / FIFTEEN YEARS? part 2: 2003-04

Anyone who knows me probably knows that filmmaker Robert Nelson was a really significant, formative, and meaningful influence for me as an artist, mentor, and friend. With my friend Martha Hunt (my predecessor at the Academy), Nelson’s films were the first I had any involvement in preserving, collaborating with Martha when I worked at Canyon to concoct what we imagined could be an ongoing project to restore American experimental film between Canyon and the Academy. Robert Nelson was my first choice because I had recently (in 2001) become totally enamored of his work, his films badly needed restoration, and he was the primary founder of Canyon as a distributor in 1966-67, yet his films were no longer in distribution there at that time. This latter fact meant that as an initial collaborative project, I felt there couldn’t really be claims of conflict of interest (not that I need have worried about that, really).

I reached out to Bob in Fall 2001, and some anecdotes about this meeting and the ensuing 10-year collaboration and friendship is detailed already in my post following his death in 2012, “Goodbye, Bob.”, so I won’t repeat it here. It’s pretty amazing to me that he’s been gone over six years, and there are still so many traces of him all over the place in my life and work.

When I got to the Academy on June 25, 2003, Nelson’s films were, meaningfully for me, the first collection I personally brought into the archive. Two of his films had already arrived and were preserved by my friend Martha (The Off-Handed Jape and Deep Westurn), but there were plenty more to go. Originally, Bob had intended to just choose the films he wanted to send and ship the elements for each as we needed them, but I convinced him that it would be a lot better and more effective to just send me everything so I could go through it all.

Continue reading “Limitations (1987-88) by Robert Nelson / FIFTEEN YEARS? part 2: 2003-04”

FIFTEEN YEARS? (part 1: introduction)

Today, June 25, 2018, marks my 15th anniversary working as a film preservationist at the Academy Film Archive.

I had absolutely no idea that more than fifteen years ago, when accepting this job, I could possibly have stayed in it so long. I had at that point (2003) been working at Canyon Cinema for three years, where I’d gotten a major crash course in the aesthetic, anecdotal, and technical history of the avant-garde (not to mention where I met hundreds of amazing filmmakers, curators, academics, and others, many of whom have remained friends/collaborators over the years) when the job at the Academy came open. In part because the Academy Film Archive (specifically director Mike Pogorzelski and preservation officer Josef Lindner) had wanted to expand the work the archive was doing on experimental films, I found myself moving to Los Angeles.

Over the years, the amount of support, encouragement, and freedom I’ve had from my colleagues and supervisors at the Academy to focus largely on independent artists’ films has been really remarkable, and it has made the idea of working somewhere else seem kind of a ludicrous option. Plus I still really love L.A. So I’m still here, happily, a decade and a half later.

Continue reading “FIFTEEN YEARS? (part 1: introduction)”

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)).

Continue reading “Stan Brakhage’s Fire of Waters and sculpting in sound”

Film in the Present Tense: Berlin, October 20-22, 2017

If you’ll be anywhere near Berlin in late October, please do consider coming to what promises to be a fantastic weekend symposium there, October 20-22, 2017.  Organized by the amazing LaborBerlin folks, Film in the Present Tense will seek to explore the myriad ways in which analog film continues to be crucial, relevant, and thriving as an art form and medium well into the 21st Century.

Here’s the link:

Here’s their own description of the event:
“In spite of claims of its obsolescence, analog film is still alive. It continues to exist as an inimitable artistic medium, put to use in myriad forms around the world. Nonetheless, in the context of our ever-expanding digital landscape, analog film faces new challenges that have forced it into a process of deep transformation. What steps do we need to take to guarantee that analog film will remain as a living-breathing medium? What are the alternatives to the idea of film as an obsolete, historical object? What new forms will film take and what will that mean for the culture that surrounds it? How do we keep analog film in the Now?

Organised by LaborBerlin in cooperation with the Film Institute of the Berlin University of the Arts, Film in the Present Tense will bring together filmmakers, artists, programmers, technicians and representatives from museums, independent film labs and cinemas to address these questions and formulate ideas, possibilities and plans of action for keeping film current and alive. In addition to six panel discussions, there will be screenings and expanded cinema performances presenting some of the ways in which film continues to exist “in the present tense”.”

I’m thrilled and honored to give the keynote presentation, as well as present two curated screenings and participate in a panel on the role of the archive in contemporary film.  There will be numerous other brilliant thinkers and artists in attendance, other screenings, more panels, and probably some wonderfully enthusiastic discussion late into the nights about everything.  Should be a really enlightening and fun event, and I hope you can make it!