‘Sensuous, deeply felt, rigorous, uncompromising – the work of Chick Strand belongs in the canon of avant-garde cinema alongside that of her contemporaries Stan Brakhage and Bruces Baillie and Conner. Thanks to a spate of recent restorations by the Pacific and Academy film archives, they may slowly be getting their due.
‘Co-founder with Baillie of Canyon Cinema in 1961, Strand helped create an audience for experimental filmmakers, which she continued over 24 years as a professor in Los Angeles, bending and expanding minds with the manifold potentials of cinematic form. Her own mastery of poetic abstraction, found footage and lyrical ethnography make her filmography one of the most dynamic and distinctive of an era.
‘A student of anthropology who went on to study ethnographic film, Strand is most often associated with her work documenting the people she encountered in Mexico, in and around the town of San Miguel Allende, Guanajuato. For years she spent her summers there, always with a 16mm camera in hand: Cosas de Mi Vida (1976), Fake Fruit Factory (1986) and Señora con Flores (1995/2011) are only a handful of the many portraits she created before her death in 2009.
‘Many of them focused on the everyday lives of women. The 1970 film Mosori Monika, which considers the relationship between missionaries and native Waraos in Venezuela, exemplifies Strand’s signature style: caressing movements and features in close-up, pulling viewers in by the lapels with a telescoped lens, incorporating the subject’s thoughts via voiceover narration.
‘Perhaps the most radical is Artificial Paradise (1986), an ecstatic rapture of glimpses and textures that dares to express, as she has written, “the anthropologist’s most human desire.” The intimacy of her gaze wants to collapse the distance between filmmaker and subject, outsider and native – in true avant-garde fashion, to recast the document as ‘of’ rather than ‘about’. The result is a relentless, deeply absorbing visual encounter that must be experienced to be understood.
‘Perhaps this unapologetic subjectivity played a part in keeping Strand’s work from embrace within visual anthropology circles – although practitioners like Robert Gardner and John Marshall managed to push notions of the genre from within. (She also felt a strong sense of duty to access and interpret the female experience across cultures, something underrepresented in the male-dominated anthropological work of the early 1970s.) Still, the breadth of Strand’s interests went well beyond ethnography, into film language and experimental technique.
‘When she moved to Los Angeles to study at UCLA, Strand met Pat O’Neill, who encouraged her interest in film stocks and showed her how to solarise film as well as operate an optical printer. Angel Blue Sweet Wings (1966) and Waterfall (1967) are early examples of her experimentation with these tools and techniques. The former is a layered poem of landscape, creatures and natural light with a jazz inflected soundtrack; the latter a deftly synthesised reverie of figure skaters, retriever dogs, church towers and Busby Berkeley mass ornament.
‘Also assembled from appropriated materials are the later works Cartoon le Mousse (1979) and Loose Ends (1979), both decidedly poignant if darker visions of suffering and the human condition. These films succeed in absorbing the viewer into their own universe of keen and unsettling association, dry wit and devastation.
‘The intensity of Strand’s oeuvre finds its breath in films like Kristallnacht and Fever Dream (both 1979), each a sustained meditation on reflected light. But where Kristallnacht hovers over rippling water, with drips and sprays in luminous black and white, Fever Dream insists on the body, all skin and sensuality. They give you the distinct sense of Strand’s voice distilled: the intimacy of physical experience married to light and movement; the essence of vision, the essence of cinema.
‘Describing ethnographic filmmaking, Strand once wrote: “It is a means to get into other perspectives of the culture, to meet them, and to identify with them as fellow human beings.” Her diverse output is permeated by this profound sense of humanity, of film as a tool for identification and relation, transcending time and culture. Strand, who preferred intuition to analysis, would agree: stop reading. See the films.’ — Vera Brunner-Sung, Sight & Sound
Chick Strand @ The Film-Makers Cooperative
‘Chick Strand: Loose Notes’
‘U of M Students Respond to Chick Strand: In Retrospect’
‘Divining spirits: Chick Strand’
‘Soft Fiction and Kristallnacht: An Interview with Irina Leimbacher’
‘Chick Strand, Señora con Flores’
‘Tags: Chick Strand’ @ Experimental Cinema
‘Remembering Chick Strand’
‘Chick Strand at 75’
‘Who’s Chick Strand?’
Steve Polta on Chick Strand
‘Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear: Fake Fruit Factory’
‘THE JOY OF AMERICAN AVANT-GARDE’
‘Chick Strand: Now They Call it “Avant-Garde”‘
‘Goodbye, Chick Strand’
CHICK STRAND DOCUMENT
“Marmor”, a found footage video using film material of Chick Strand
“I have no idea what my films mean when I’m doing them. That is boring to me to figure out…If I knew what the meaning was, there would be no reason to do it.”
“Other people love to work with a script and the whole thing but not me…”
“[Soft Fiction] is a film about women who win…What I mean by winning is that they don’t become victims, and they don’t become survivors. They carry on. They take the responsibility for having had the experience and carrying it off and dealing with it and carrying on and becoming more potent, more powerful, more of themselves.”
“The end one, Hedy, means it is never trivial. It is all going to get us in the heart and the gut. She just comes to a blank when she gets to that hill where bad things are going on. She gets to a blank. She’s had a hard time, obviously. And that was the first time that she told the story to anyone….in a sense the film itself acted as an exorcism for some of these things. These stories are what the women told me….”
“I make films. I don’t make films for a living. It’s out of pocket most of the time. And I damn well do what I want. I have no responsibility to the Women’s movement, to liberal politics, to international workers of the world, or to anything or to any political correctness, none at all. I’d be bored. It’s all going to come out. Let the people speak for themselves, the incidents speak for themselves. When I first started showing Soft Fiction, I’d get shit from some feminists as if I wasn’t supposed to show it—as if I was supposed to lie about it somehow.”
“All of us experimental filmmakers are in the hole—the guys and the women, too. We’re the last anybody ever thinks about and the first to go. But then our own boys don’t pay any attention to us. Well, they do but…that’s pretty hard. But that’s okay, because the biggest hole is experimental film…We’re all in it as experimental filmmakers. So that’s the part of me that ends up going to these shows and speaking—just in case one or two people might be interested enough to pay the fee to get in and keep things going.”
“I shoot documentary style…And Soft Fiction, no. I don’t know to this day whether one person’s story is true or not. I mean, it has to do with memory. I am much more interested in how it is related to Alain Resnais—to Last Year at Marienbad (1961)—than I am interested in whether it is related to Salesman (Albert and David Maysles, 1969).”
“I like a lot of movement. I like to make my own special effects. I like to put the viewer in a position they would never be in: really close in, for a length of time, like they’re flitting around the feet of the dancers.””
7 of Chick Strand’s 13 films
‘Strand spent over twenty years documenting her friend Anselmo Aguascalientes’ life, eventually creating a stunning trilogy of films—Anselmo, Cosas de mi vida, and Anselmo and the Women—tender portraits that are also glimpses into poverty, resourcefulness, perseverance and patriarchy.’ — letterboxd
Mosori Monika (1970)
‘ Mosori Monika considers the relationship between missionaries and native Waraos in Venezuela, exemplifies Strand’s signature style: caressing movements and features in close-up, pulling viewers in by the lapels with a telescoped lens, incorporating the subject’s thoughts via voiceover narration.’ — bfi
Loose Ends (1979)
‘LOOSE ENDS is a collage film about the process of internalizing the information that bombards us through a combination of personal experience and media in all forms. Speeding through our senses in ever-increasing numbers and complicated mixtures of fantasy, dream and reality from both outside and in, these fragmented images of life, sometimes shared by all, sometimes isolated and obscure, but with common threads, lead us to a state of psychological entropy tending toward a uniform inertness … an insensitive uninvolvement in the human condition and our own humanity.’ — Filmmakers Coop
the entire film
Soft Fiction (1979)
‘Chick Strand’s SOFT FICTION is a personal documentary that brilliantly portrays the survival power of female sensuality. It combines the documentary approach with a sensuous lyrical expressionism. Strand focuses her camera on people talking about their own experience, capturing subtle nuances in facial expressions and gestures that are rarely seen in cinema.’ — collaged
the entire film
Irina Leimbacher talks about “Soft Fiction”
Fake Fruit Factory (1986)
‘ I discovered this particular piece after it being mentioned as one of the National Film Registry’s 2011 list of 25 culturally significant films. Before actually viewing the film I was surprised by its inclusion given that it is only a twenty minute documentary about a group of Mexican women making fake fruit. Upon beginning my viewing of the film though I realized it was something far grander and more realized than simply documenting an unusual type of employment. What Chick Strand creates in her brief documentary is an ethereal study of human existence as seen through the lives of a few under-appreciated and blatantly exploited women. Unlike other fly on the wall documentaries, Strand offers you no explanation as to what you are watching besides an occasional title card of explanation, you are left to glean from the film what is shown and what is said by the works, most of which is referencing the sexual exploits of the women. This approach makes considerable sense given Strand’s close ties to the ethnography program that existed at UCLA in the 1970’s. What Fake Fruit Factory becomes through Strand’s vision is a concise narrative essay on a few women who are being exploited by an often faceless white man, who only desires their craftiness and, at times, exotic bodies. We as viewers fear the worst when we realize that their is little these women can do to escape, until we are shown the women enjoying a picnic and swimming at an unknown park. This brief moment reminds viewers that life is not about the products we create or those things we can quantify, but instead the always fleeting moments of quality which toss and turn like agitated waters. Chick Strand offers something different and proves how integral experimentation in film has become to the grander evolution of cinema.’ — Travis Wagner
the entire film
Coming Up for Air (1986)
‘A “new narrative” film based on the visions of magic realism in an Anglo context. This is a gothic mystery that explores a reckless pursuit of interchangeable personalities and experience. Whether experience is first hand, read, remembered from a conversation during a chance encounter, heard of from all possible sources of information, whether fact or fiction, the “experiences” become ours; reinterpreted, reconstructed, and restructured, finally becoming our personal myths, and the source of our poetry and dreams. The sources for this film include night dreams, the idea of holocaust, the exoticness of the Mid-East, the sensuality of animals, the explorations of Scott in Antarctica, and a film I once saw, entitled The Son of Amir Is Dead.’ — Chick Strand
Wild Rumpus (2008)
‘A pastiche by Chick Strand built out of footage from Where the Wild Things Are.’ — dustincollins
p.s. Hey. ** Jeff Coleman, Hi, Jeff! First of all, your comments came through, obviously. There’s some kind of glitch where commenters sometimes don’t see that their comments have registered, but they usually do. Nice mind meld on Spiritflesh. ** Sypha, Hi. Well, cool. Is the Halloween playlist pre-set, or can you devise something that’ll spook the customers? The only share on our recent listening is the Aphex Twin, no surprise, which I like. ** Rewritedept, Well, hi there, man! It has been what feels like ages. Tricks are up and down but continuous. Yeah, I mean, therapy helped me a ton back when I needed it, very surprisingly, so I wouldn’t count that out. So sorry you’re in a low phase. I’m in Paris for a bit, then a quick jaunt to Portugal, then, maybe, I hope, I’m not sure, a Halloween trip to LA, but it’s looking not so very likely at the moment. I’ll try the SPZD album, cool. I don’t know it, no. Well, awesome news that you’re back to making your music! So all is not lost to say the least! Take care. ** Dominik, Hi! Yes, I’m biting the bullet, hopefully not literally, and seeing a dentist this morning. I fear they’re going to say my teeth are evidence of Satan’s existence, but maybe not. Okay, I understand, I think, and it sounds like you setting up a private practice is totally doable. I really hope that happens as easily as possible. It makes sense somehow, or I don’t know. It feels good. I need to start the script revision today whether I like it or not, and I don’t (like it), ha ha. But I will. I hope you day at work is a lot less hectic than that. A lot! Take really good care! ** Amphibiouspeter, Hi, Pete! I really don’t understand why other countries have jumped on board the Halloween thing. It makes no sense to me. It’s obviously the best holiday. It’s a no brainer that people would love to have a full-fledged Halloween with haunted houses and the whole shebang. The London showing went really well, thanks. Sorry not to get to see you, but there’ll be another time surely. Yikes, I hope you found your house keys, and best of luck on the new flat. Flat hunting is fo the birds. You have a great day by whatever means too. ** Jamie, Hey! Nice to be back and to have you back also. I think Puce Mary will tour with her new record, so maybe she’ll set up shop in your vicinity. Man, your medical deal today sounds … well, honestly, strangely fun, but that’s easy for me to say. My dentist trip this morning is pretty much guaranteed not to be fun, however. Let’s compare. I think the TV script itself is going to be pretty good, it’s just the amount of work and not exciting work we need to do. But work is work. Today is just dentistry and work and, uh, paying rent. Anything else will be surprising. May your day make those capsules taste like bites of Buche de Noel. Chirping bird love, Dennis. ** _Black_Acrylic, Spiritflesh seems to have been the hit of the bunch. Interesting. I love the new Tim Hecker too. It was a much played road trip sonic input morsel. Oh, great, about the two courses, I’d forgotten about the screen printing one. Yes, obviously, very thumbs up on you coming up an image/text hybrid form. You can nail that one, maestro. ** Jeff J, Thanks, Jeff. Oh, fwit, I made a Lewis Klahr Day for next week. I wasn’t so taken with the Ital Tek album that I downloaded it. The full-length Ipek Gorgun is pretty nice. Ah, dying to see the new ‘Tree of Life’ cut very clearly. Michael Salerno saw/has it and loved it and, I think, will loan it to me. So curious. Hooray about the Recollets cementing! Truly awesome! There’s a Grandrieux retrospective happening at the Cinematheque here right now as you probably know. Sure, yes, let’s Skype. I’m around until the 11th and then away for a few days. Let me know what’s good for you. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. I … don’t think I’ve heard Imperial Triumphant, let me check. I liked your Low/Tumor piece a lot. Kudos. I’m glad your throat is being more kindly. ** Bill, Ha ha, oh, no, you’re fine just the way you are. What’s going on in Chicago for you? Okay, I’ll hunt online for ‘Resolution’. Gira solo? Like just him an acoustic guitar-like solo? ** Shane Christmass, Great about the greatness! I don’t think I know Robert Silverberg. I’ll investigate. Plus I’ll score the new Mattress Grave! Thank you! Have a super swell day. ** Paul Curran, Hi, Paul! Yeah, suckage that I didn’t budgeted in to the CROWD tour. Biz as usual though. I’m glad you’re writing even if it’s not the flood you’d wish. Trickling works, god knows. That’s exciting! What is ‘international school’? It sounds good. Enjoy Tokyo’s day and night enough for both of us please. ** Right. I thought I would put Chick Strand’s films in front of you today to see what happened. See you tomorrow.