Art as a subversive film

Over the years I’ve worked with Robert Nelson on the unearthing, preserving, and screening of his films, there has always been an interesting back-and-forth related to his perspective on his own work. He has said that he views his films as “works in progress” in the sense that, at any given time, if he feels he wants to further modify or change or even destroy any of his films, he absolutely reserves the right to do so. In fact, not being hung up on his art (whether film, painting, sculpture, etc.) as being sacred or immutable in some way is part of his pleasure in being an artist.

I totally love and respect this viewpoint, but of course it puts the preservationist side of me at some odds with his efforts. At any rate, just wanted to give some background on this photo.

In the mid-to-late ’90s, Nelson started to re-evaluate his entire filmographic output. Many films that he felt were problematic, he attempted to “fix” by re-editing them. A few of these attempts were successful for him, most weren’t. Some he didn’t even bother with and immediately earmarked them for destruction.

Eventually, everything that he planned to destroy (including also workprints, cut mags, and faded prints, in addition to originals for the aforementioned dismissed works) went into a huge pile. Some of it got shredded in a paper shredder. The rest of it got lacquered and turned into sculptures, several of which are visible in this photo.

May I draw your attention to one stack of film in particular, in the lower left, which has been turned into a stool seat…? When it occurs to him, I’m sure Nelson gets a certain kick out of planting his ass onto what may be the originals for Super Spread (1967) or The Beard (1968) or any number of other destroyed films.

Pasteur³ notes with added value

In a can of outtakes from Will Hindle’s film Pasteur³ (1976), I found these handwritten notes of his, which basically identify the footage it came with. I was just going to file these away as I usually do with accompanying paper material, when I realized what they were. These notes were written on fragments of the computer cards that fall abundantly from the sky and which Will attempts to organize and sort in his film Chinese Firedrill (1968).

One solution to sound problems [The Awful Backlash (1967) by Robert Nelson]

For some time, Robert Nelson has expressed varying degrees of dissatisfaction about the original soundtrack for his 1967 film The Awful Backlash. Personally, I think it’s perfect, and I don’t know anyone who really disagrees besides Robert. For now, he’s kind of letting it go. Anyway, at one point, he took a rather extreme approach to solving the “sound problem”, which was to actually scrape the offending parts of the soundtrack away with a razorblade. In many spots, the picture gets pretty wrecked too. Scott MacDonald once asked Robert for a print to show, and was sent a similarly modified one. Scott, are you reading this? Did you actually end up screening the print?

Casting Shadows

I think this is a beautiful one. This is the original picture roll for David Wilson’s film Casting Shadows. Some of you may know David’s work via his Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City (L.A. area). Anyway, he and his wife Diana both made films throughout the ’70s (and which I’m working on restoring). This is one of the more obscure ones, which incorporates precisely labeled pieces of white leader as its structuring motif. One result of this approach is a very nice-looking camera original.

A contact printer

Homemade contact printer built by Standish Lawder, and used in the making of his films Runaway (1969) and Corridor (1970), and possibly part of Roadfilm (1970).

The coffee can contains a regular incandescent light bulb hooked to a dimmer control. The camera is an old 16mm that belonged to Lawder’s dad. He made the tension adjustable on its inner workings in order to put several pieces of film multipacked through the film path and the gate.

In the dark, he would bi- or tri-pack raw stock (b/w reversal usually) with existing footage (the running dogs cartoon in the case of Runaway, the corridor footage he shot himself in Corridor). He would then contact print the footage in various ways using different brightness settings on the lightbulb in the coffee can, which would shine its beam through the old flashlight tube into the gate of the camera.

In the case of Corridor, the resulting footage was sometimes further processed, or printed to negative, or hi-con, or whatever. The A/B rolls were then edited from this pile of footage.

Standish also says the coffee can was originally a Chock Full O’ Nuts can, but had to be replaced, I think because it got damaged at some point.