Dorsky & avant-garde cinema
April 17, 2012 3:29 PM   Subscribe

A recent NYTimes article on Nathanial Dorsky has whet my appetite for some avant-garde cinema. Help point me in the right direction.

"He makes short, silent experimental films that feature brightly colored flowers, bursts of sunlight and shifting pools of shadow instead of characters, plots and stories."

"Explores the disconnection between humanity and the natural world"

"A gesture towards a cinema of pure being"

Yeah, that sounds nice. Where can I find some films like this? I'm open to suggestions of directors/works that I might be able to get my hands on.

I was originally going to ask about Dorsky specifically, but I struck out with the usual web searches, local university/public libraries and video stores. I decided his stuff is going to probably be impossible to find unless you want to pay $100 and rent a 16mm reel, which I don't have the money/equipment/skills to do. I'd like to stick to stick to digital if possible. I live in Seattle, so I have a pretty extensive/niche video store at my disposal.

"Again and again, in images of trees and plants glimpsed through windows and in shadow, there’s a strong sense in Mr. Dorsky’s work that nature is just out of grasp, intoxicatingly near and unreachable. And then abruptly he will plunge deep into a thicket of branches or a tangle of flowering plants that looks like a Jackson Pollock drip painting, the camera moving through the foliage like a bushwhacker or holding steady on the gently bobbing blossoms."

^ Something like that :)

I'm an artist whose knowledge of experimental film doesn't extend much deeper than Stan Brakhage. More and more I find myself wanting to work with video, though. I want to get educated! Thanks.
posted by victory_laser to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Well, Dorsky in particular is a film zealot — to some extent, his films are about the aesthetic properties of 16mm film stock — and his films are not available digitally, nor would I expect them to ever be except in ugly pirated versions (see this old comment of mine for more on what's wrong with pirating avant garde film). This write-up in Cinema Scope even quotes him as answering the question of why his films aren't available on DVD by saying "Because they wouldn't work".

So, if you want to see his films you're right that renting from Canyon is the only way to do it. Or, obviously, waiting for Northwest Film Forum or Grand Illusion someone else local to show it — you should certainly write to them and express your interest in seeing such a program. Dorsky is pretty hot right now, so it wouldn't be a bad idea (send them the NY Times article to prove it!)

The 16mm Directory, by the way, is a great place to check on who in your area is equipped to show 16mm films — they are very thorough.

Another good resource for finding out where to see experimental films "live" is hi-beam's This Week in Avant Garde Cinema page, which lists US avant-garde film screenings.

My own film zealotry aside, though —

Why not focus particularly on learning about 'makers' whose work is originally digital? Many of them make their work available online for free. Michael Robinson is one who seems to be popular recently, and whose stuff you might like. And of course there are also filmmakers like Robert Todd who make their films on 16mm but do make them available on DVD (often, like Todd, on a "only available through the filmmaker's website" or a "if you send me an email and ask" basis — so don't be afraid to do that kind of thing!)

Other people will probably have better specific recommendations than me... for example, the staff at the awesome video store you mention. Reading criticism is also a great way to discover things. Fred Camper is one avant-garde film loving critic who introduced me to a lot of things through his writing. Looking through the rest of Canyon's catalog — as well as the Filmmaker's Co-op catalog — will introduce you to all kinds of things, some available on DVD and others not. Also, Jonas Mekas (an excellent avant-garde filmmaker in his own right) recommends this French (?) website as a source for digital and DVD copies of avant-garde films that actually kicks back to the filmmakers (he says, "It's OK to stream some of the works in shabby qualities from various sites that are popping up all over the internet (with no permission from film-makers), but if you really want to see them in GOOD quality, the only way to do so is to get GOOD copies (relatively inexpensive) from Re:Voir!" - presumably the 'shabby qualities' bit is in reference to places like ubuweb, which has been somewhat controversial in the filmmaking community, but might also be a good resource for you if you don't already know about it).

And take a class at NW Film Forum, if you're serious about wanting to work with video!
posted by bubukaba at 6:29 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

bubukaba - even if I only get this one response, I consider this post a success. Thanks so much for all the recommendations!
posted by victory_laser at 6:40 PM on April 17, 2012

posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:24 PM on April 17, 2012

Brakhage — some of whose films are available from Criterion on BluRay, if you want to see them looking closer to how they're supposed to, if still not on film — is someone who Fred Camper is particularly good on. Here he is on the subject of watching Brakhage on DVD. Here is his collection of links to general information and articles on his films. And, most fascinatingly, here is his page of blow-ups of strips of the actual prints.
posted by bubukaba at 9:45 PM on April 17, 2012

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