The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Short films program: Tom Chomont, Shuji Terayama, Jack Chambers, Warren Sonbert, Marjorie Keller, Derek Jarman, Bradley Eros, Lionel Soukaz, Sadie Benning, Mariusz Grzegorzek

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Tom Chomont Oblivion, 1969

‘Approximately thirty images comprise Oblivion. Most obsessively repeat themselves. Although the images appear to be solarized, the film was actually contact-printed, combining high contrast black and white negative with a colour positive of the same image. The high contrast accounts for the tendency of shots to flood. Images in the film swell and contrast, often disappearing into pure colour… Oblivion employs extremely rapid cutting. Some of the images last as briefly as two frames. The fact that we see so few frames, that a shot is representationally ambiguous, or shown upside down and sideways, often causes the viewer to project his/her own fantasies… When Jean Genet was asked to what end he was directing his life he responded, “To oblivion.”’ — JJ Murphy

‘At the intersection of eroticism, mysticism, and the everyday one finds Tom Chomont. Chomont completed approximately 40 short films between 1962 and 1989. He suffered from Parkinson’s during the last decades of his life; a time in which he also produced a wide range of video works. These later pieces include documents of his struggles with illness as well as his immersion in ritual S&M culture.’ — The Film-makers Coop

 

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Shuji Terayama Les Chants de Maldoror, 1977

‘A “reading film” of delirious image and text, Les chants de Maldoror takes its title and inspiration from Comte de Lautréamont’s 1869 proto-Surrealist poetic novel which, for instance, describes beauty as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table. In the novel’s six cantos, a young misanthrope indulges in depraved and destructive acts. Unexpected encounters abound, with turtles and birds joining Terayama’s regular cast of snails and dogs to wander over books and bare torsos. Feverish video processing posterizes, inverts and overlays images that are further colored by sound—pushing the limits of his literary adaptation. Terayama wrote that the only tombstone he wanted was his words, but, as Les chants de Maldoror demonstrates, words need not be confined to carved monuments or bound hardcopies.’ — Letterboxd

‘Beginning with his precocious and often controversial engagement with traditional tanka poetry as a mere teen, Terayama held tight to his belief that genuine artistic creativity was rooted in the act of shattering molds in order to cast them anew. Cinema was a source of fascination for Terayama ever since the childhood days and nights spent in his uncle’s cinema in remote Aomori Prefecture. Casablanca remained a talismanic favorite, cryptically cited throughout his poetry and multimedia practice, appropriated and reinvented in a similar manner as the work of Jean Cocteau and Luis Buñuel. The early death of Terayama’s father would cast a long shadow across his films, art and writing, which are haunted by absent or ambiguous figures of authority. By extension, the questioning of masculine authority that informs so much of Terayama’s art found especially rich expression in his films and their frequently radical destabilization of meaning.’ — Harvard Film Archive

 

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Jack Chambers Mosaic, 1966

‘Immediately from the titleplay we are not just having fun but being told that certain connections will have to be made. Every composition values light and movement above anything else than (its influence on the) framing which is almost never executed so exactly (this latter aspect I am finding it more difficult to encompass with words but it is as though this man is Vermeer and most other people are just making films, is the feeling I get). It is hard to be willing to publish much more on the film now given it so clearly requires rewatching many times over (equally as much to experience the beauty of the images as it will be to better parse the entirety of the vision and perceptions we are given (not just “to make sense of it” as it is already plenty full of sense)).’ — Adam Cloutier

‘The fact IS that the four films of Jack Chambers have changed the whole history of film, despite their neglect, in a way that isn’t even possible within the field of painting. There are no ‘masters’ of film in any significant sense whatsoever. There are only ‘makers’ in the original, or at least medieval, sense of the word. Jack Chambers is a true ‘maker’ of films. He needs no stance, or standing, for he dances attendance upon the coming-into-being of something recognizably NEW.’ — Stan Brakhage

 

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Warren Sonbert Amphetamine, 1966

‘The film focuses on a party of drugs and sex – young men with a deadpan expression injecting amphetamines. Sonbert shows it in a very detailed and meticulous way that makes the viewer almost feel the pain physically, while the joyful pop music creates a counterpoint that adds a playful aspects to these scenes. In this film, Sonbert pays tribute to VERTIGO (1958) [which he had first seen at the Bleecker Street Cinema in New York (see WHERE DID OUR LOVE GO?)]— with its spiral and circular motifs. The film begins with a woman’s portrait (framed inside a circle) like the portrait of Carlotta at which Madeleine (Kim Novak) gazes in the museum scene.

‘The music and the structure of AMPHETAMINE are also repetitive, and in one scene the camera moves in a circle around two men embracing, similar to the famous kissing scene between James Stewart and Kim Novak in Hitchcock’s VERTIGO.

‘It’s an homage, but Sonbert subverts gender conventions, showing a homosexual kiss, three years before the Stonewall riots. If Madeleine represents Scottie’s obsessive fantasy world, the party in Sonbert’s film reflects the fantasies and desires of a decade later, the 1960s era – with its forbidden paradise.’ — Chen Sheinberg

‘Warren Sonbert was one of the seminal figures working in American experimental film. He started making films in 1966 while a student at New York University, and before he was 20 years old, his first career retrospective drew the attention of the film critic for the commercial trade journal Variety, who wrote that: “Probably not since Andy Warhol’s ‘The Chelsea Girls’ had its first showing at the Cinematheque… almost a year and a half ago has an ‘underground’ film event caused as much curiosity and interest in N.Y.’s non-underground world as did four days of showings of the complete films of Warren Sonbert at the Cinematheque’s new location On Wooster St.”’ — Lightcone

 

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Marjorie Keller Herein, 1991

‘HEREIN charts the movement from political activism to filmmaking through the metaphor of a dwelling. An FBI film obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Emma Goldman’s autobiography, the making of films on the Lower East Side in New York, street prostitution and drug addiction, all inflect the sense of place, space and history. Ultimately a confounding jumble that somehow works wonders.’ — Tim Gabriele

‘Marjorie Keller died prematurely in 1994 at the age of 43, leaving over 25 films in 8 mm and 16 mm and a series of critical texts about the kind of cinema that interested her, such as a book about childhood in the work of Brakhage, Cocteau and Cornell, and incomplete research into experimental film by women, from pioneers like Germaine Dulac, Maya Deren and Carolee Schneemann to the young generation of her contemporaries, represented by Peggy Ahwesh, Su Friedrich and Leslie Thornton.’ — CCCB

 

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Derek Jarman Egyptian Basses, 1993

‘As prominent members of London’s thriving gay subculture, the band Coil became friends with the film director Derek Jarman, who had also filmed one of Throbbing Gristle’s concerts. Stephen Thrower featured him in some of his movies, and Coil were involved in the soundtracks to some of them, notably his controversial Blue, and his first full-length feature The Angelic Conversation. This friendship led to Jarman directing a number of short films to Coil’s songs which the band issued as ‘ promotion music videos’.’ — Allmusic

‘On the international stage, Jarman is seen as an important artist filmmaker, probably best known for his 1993 film Blue: simply a single, screen-filling field of glowing ultramarine, over which Jarman weaves a complex soundscape around the cultural and political connotations of his own imminent death. In Britain he is known for a wider range of activities: as the director of feature films, many on queer cultural figures—Caravaggio, Saint Sebastian, Ludwig Wittgenstein—and as a painter, stage designer, diarist, and gay activist. First and foremost, however, Jarman is a charismatic public personality in Britain, a position that seems only to have been strengthened by his death over a quarter century ago.’ — Mark Hudson

 

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Bradley Eros Mutable Fire, 1984

‘A collage film can so easily look like a stream of chaotic puke. It’s hard to define what makes one “work” and another fail. It has to successfully create the mood of the theme, obviously. I don’t think anyone wants to watch random images with no thematic link. Maybe the editing has to make a subconscious mathematical sense to the viewer. Maybe it has to make you think (or zone out altogether). But it definitely has to have good music and/or sound design.’ — AuteurTheory

‘Bradley Eros is an experimental film director, actor, curator, poet, and performance artist who also makes Musique concrète sound collages, music videos, photographs, live projection performances, works on paper and art objects. His work has been presented in multiple screenings and exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, including the 2004 Whitney Biennial, and is in the permanent collection of the museum. He has also created dozens of ‘zines, posters, soundtracks and unique artist’s books. He is represented by Microscope Gallery in New York City and is known for his work in the field of contracted cinema.’ — The Brooklyn Rail

 

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Lionel Soukaz Maman que man, 1982

‘Lament for the death of a mother, Mom that man avoids, circumvents confidence, memory, nostalgia, in short, any wordy slip into psychology or self-analysis. Around the beautiful and tender figure of Didier Hercend, these are intense blocks of emotion, fury and noise that crystallize; imperishable bursts assail us: poignant appearance of Copi as an alcoholic full of stupor and boredom, of Michel Cressol as mad barista. man: the time of childhood blocks, the farewell to lost children, the Baudelairian hymns to death: “it is death that consoles, alas! And which brings life… “but in rage and fury, always imposed by the very writing and the style of invincible vitality.’ — Rene Scherer

‘Lionel SOUKAZ is a cinematographer and filmmaker. He is one of the pioneers of French queer cinema. His work, especially in the first part of his career, reflects a synthesis of the various avant-garde movements he was drawn to in the 1970s and 1980s. Affiliated with the activists and intellectuals at FHAR (the Homosexual Front for Revolutionary Action) and the magazine Gai Pied, such as Guy Hocquenghem or Copi, he was also active within the experimental film scene, working to promote Super-8 filmmaking at the Festival des Cinémas Différents (Hyères) or Cinémarge (La Rochelle), and ultimately organising his event in 1978: the first Gay and Lesbian film festival in Paris, Écrans roses et nuits bleues. His films display an uncompromising commitment to self-narration and the expression of desire, and embody his unlimited craving for freedom – as a result of which his work has often faced censorship.’ — IFFR

 

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Sadie Benning Living Inside, 1989

‘When she was 16, Benning stopped going to high school for three weeks and stayed inside with her camera, her TV set, and a pile of dirty laundry. Living Inside mirrors her psyche during this time. With the image breaking up between edits, the rough quality of this early tape captures Benning’s sense of isolation and sadness, her retreat from the world.’ — Jacob Willett

‘Sadie Benning’s career began at 15, when they received a Fisher-Price PXL 2000 toy video camera from their father for Christmas. Benning remembers, “I thought, ‘This is a piece of shit. It’s black-and-white. It’s for kids.’ He’d told me I was getting this surprise. I was expecting a camcorder.” Reminiscent of journal entries and filmed mostly in their bedroom, the videos Benning created with the PXL 2000 are a window into their teenage world in Milwaukee. The artist acknowledges, “I got started partly because I needed different images and I never wanted to wait for someone to do them for me.” Suddenly, Benning became a pioneer of a new and rapidly popularizing genre of film: Pixelvision, as the videos were coined for their flat, pixilated quality.’ — MoMA

 

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Mariusz Grzegorzek Krakatau, 1986

‘Some experimental films aren’t about the stories they can supposedly tell, but rather the efforts taken to make them say anything at all. Krakatau, by Mariusz Grzegorzek, is compiled of unrelated footage, works of different gauges, and so many other conflicting elements, all in an effort to have audience members create their own connections. Named after the infamous volcano, Krakatau is meant to cause an eruption of your senses: jarring images, difficult cohesions, and other discomforts for eleven minutes. Combining surreality and anguish, Krakatau is an unforgettable temporary experience that will leave you scratching your head for hours (and perhaps trapped in your mind for even longer).’ — Films Fatale

‘Mariusz Grzegorzek was born on January 20, 1962 in Cieszyn, Slaskie, Poland. He is a director and writer, known for Rozmowa z czlowiekiem z szafy (1993), The Singing Napkin (2015) and Jestem twój (2009).’ — IMDb

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi, David. As Hedi and Steve also pointed out, Daney was openly gay for a long time. You must be thinking of someone else. Everyone, If it’s possible for you help out the venerable writer, critic and very long time friend of DC’s Mr, David Ehrenstein, who’s in terrible financial straits, please please do via this gofundme page. ** Hedi, Hi, Hedi, hi, great maestro! ** Dominik, Hi!!! Yes, very busy with film stuff. It’s going really well on Zac’s and my end. We just pray our producers come through on their end. It’s looking most likely that we’ll go back to LA in early January now to put all the final pieces in place. But … sick and spooky are two life’s goals, aren’t they? Well, sick in the mind sense. Yeah, me too on the Wincing Contest. I don’t know where that came from or why it hadn’t been a lifelong dream before yesterday. So you’re saying love smells like me? Well, my shower gel isn’t extremely cheap, although no fancy hotel would ever offer it as a freebie. Love imagining what pop music superstardom would necessitate from aspiring stars if autotune had never been invented, G. ** NLK, Hi, NLK! Thanks! And here’s yet another one. Yeah, ‘Visa de censure no. X’ is wonderful, so agreed. And beautiful description, sir. Thanks for seeing ‘Jerk’. I’m happy know it was still playing here then, I wasn’t sure. Paris is a Halloween wasteland, yes. Every year I think venues and people are going to have wised up and gone full on, but they still haven’t. Thank you very kindly about ‘I Wished’. That means a lot, thank you! How are you? What’s new with you since Halloween? ** Jack Skelley, Hey, Skellster! Best review of ‘Jaws’ ever for fucking sure. I want to see and hear Santa Sabbath, which surely I can do if I hunt on youtube. On it. Was the gig videoed for posterity? Let me know if I can assist with any of those deadlines from way over here. Werner, you used to be so great! What happened?! Love (to you, not Werner), me. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, B. Wow, not that I’ve read, that’s for sure. Not that there aren’t some real smarties on there. ** CAUTIVOS, Hi! How are you? Yes, very sadly Kevin died. A truly terrible loss. T’would be amazing if Kevin and Dodie could get published in Spain somehow. There was a Spanish publisher who wanted to reprint the George Miles Cycle and translate ‘Period’ for the first time, but I think the deal never happened, unfortunately. Take care, man! ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Thank god for the saintly and ever mind-boggling Semiotext(e). English speakers’ reading lives would be infinitely poorer without them. Sure, no doubt there are Daney equivalents all over the globe that we will likely never read or even know about. What do physical therapy exercises for the ear consist of? ** Okay. I organised a lovely, I hope, most unusual, I think, short films experience for you today if you have the time and inclination. Thank you in advance if so. See you tomorrow.

11 Comments

  1. Jack Skelley

    Dennis “Claus” Cooper — Santa Sabbath did a number of YT vidz. Here’s a live cover of “Sweet Leaf” (you’ll recall once covered by Butthole Surfers), now become “Sweet Tree.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fl_aKhBubfI All these guys are from various geezer punk bands w whom we often play at the Punk Rock BBQ. Hey, now that you mention it I do need yr help w FOKA junk. I’ve been using that same blurb of yrs for ages. How about a new one? (I already have one from Thurston Moore… need more!) And I spy Hedi here. Hi Hedi! Your friend, Santa Klaus Kinski.

  2. David Ehrenstein

    Today is a trip down Memory Lane. Tom Chomont, Warren Sonbert and Derek Jarman were all personal friends of mine. Thanks for the correction re Serge Daney, When I first crossed his path he was in the closet, I can’ recll his ever mentioning gay subjects in movies,

  3. NLK

    Oh sweet, looks like a great program. I’ll have a screening tonight.

    I’m alright, though my brain feels kind of like a sieve lately. I’m an English language tutor at a high school in rural Normandy for the year, so I’m up to a lot more bullshit than I’d like. Like today, I’m making lessons on Pearl Harbor and the Gettysburg address. Yikes. But I like seeing sheep and I get to spend holidays in Paris so I’m happy to be here. Speaking of, I remember you mentioning a taxidermy museum or something in/by Paris, what was that again? I’ll try to check it out on my next trip.

    It’s funny how being into a culture doesn’t get me very far with actual people from that culture. The absolute blankness on French people’s faces when I tell them I like Rivette or Duras… They just want to talk about Lebron James or US politics. But I guess that means I’m not meeting the right people yet. How are you? I was glad to hear about the progress of your next film.

  4. _Black_Acrylic

    That Derek Jarman – Coil collab is a thing of beauty that I’d not seen or heard before. So far ahead of its time!

    This new flat is defo taking shape, with artworks and a 3rd bookshelf now fully installed. A new writing desk has also been ordered that I hope will be the site of some exciting things.

  5. Dominik

    Hi!!

    Thank you for the selection above! My evening plans are set.

    I’m really happy to hear the film preparations are going well, and I hope your producers do come through on their end. Is the guy you had so many problems with still part of the project?

    We should organize the first wincing contest. It probably wouldn’t generate as much money as some of our earlier ideas, but it’s one of the loveliest so far.

    Haha, I didn’t know you smelled like love or love smelled like you, but I went for a combination I find pleasant.

    Huh, well… there probably wouldn’t be so many aspiring stars to begin with… And a few full-blown stars wouldn’t be in the picture at all, I guess. Love making Hungary suck less, Od.

  6. Dom Lyne

    Hey Dennis,

    Warren Sonbert’s “Amphetamine” reminds me of many afterparties held at various houses in the past, a jumble of very wasted good looking people continuing to get very wasted. With the occasional me making out with a random cute one.

    With regards to Sadie Benning’s Fisher Price, I have a feeling Fisher Price recording equipment has role to play in many an artist’s early works. Haha, I remember having their old 80’s brown Model 826 tape recorder, the amount of audio-adventures/radio stations I recorded on to that, and still have pieces lingering around on cassettes is like a treasure trove. Never throw away a blank cassette at my mum’s, for sure my squeaky voice is on it somewhere like a ghost.

    I really like Grzegorzek’s approach to “Krakatau”, the merging of disjointed, non-linear/connected pieces of work together to create something individual for each viewer. Like a maze to be drawn into. It reminds me in a sense of your .GIF novels.

    How are you? Things my end are seemingly quiet for the moment. The therapy continues to shed like an onion, as one layer is peeled off, a new one is revealed, but in a good way. Already I feel some of the bloated baggage preventing my grief has been removed, and now we’re closing in and focusing on what is the real heart of the matter.

    Much love and hugs as usual.

    Dom

  7. Steve Erickson

    Great choices. I haven’t seen any except AMPHETAMINE and LIVING INSIDE. I’ll try to dig through these later today.

    Why did Sadie Benning quit making films (and music)?

    For Slant Magazine’s list of the 50 best songs of 2022, I contributed blurbs on Zach Bryan’s “Something in the Orange,” Black Sherif’s “Kwaku the Traveler,” Jnr Choi & Sam Tompkins’ “To the Moon,” Taylor Swift’s “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” and Big Thief’s “Simulation Swarm”: https://www.slantmagazine.com/features/the-50-best-songs-of-2022/

  8. Jamie

    Dennis. Thank you for this day of days! What a fine selection. I’ve only watched about half the videos here and it’s been a most pleasurable experience. The Tom Chomont, Jack Chambers, Warren Sonbert, Bradley Eros and Sadie Benning are all amazing. I’d love to see more Warren Sonbert and Jack Chambers films, but it seems they’re not so easy to come by online. Beautiful post!
    How are you? I hope the movie planning is working out well. I’ve been a little quiet, but I’ve kind had my head stuck up my own ass and not in a particularly good way (is there a particularly good way?). I’m off to London tomorrow, to see friends, family and some art.
    Hope Paris and life are treating you splendidly.
    Here Comes the Sun backwards/vocals removed love,
    Jamie

  9. T

    Yo Dennis! It’s been a while – how goes life? I’ve been coming here in fits and starts, mostly to stare vacantly or pensively: chuffed for you that the film seems to be going full steam ahead. Things aren’t so great on my end, mainly because of one of my two jobs, which is becoming pretty unbearable and ruining life (I can’t remember if I had already started when we saw each other last). Trying to work out how I can leave it fast and still find the money to keep my room here, I don’t really want to be forced to move. We’ll find a way. Anyways, thanks for the program! It made me want to make stuff. I think Shuji Terayama was my favourite of the ones I watched. He’s been on my watchlist for forever. The overlay of text and image is super interesting to me. I should dig out his features. ‘Amphetamine’ was quite notable also, but mostly for personal reasons, it reminded me very strongly of an ex of mine, and though I never really cry at art, it had me tearing up 5 minutes in. Oh, and before I leave off, will you be in Paris at the start of February? Very much in advance, but Moor Mother is playing a show which I think I will definitely go to, and wondered whether you would too? But I can shoot you an email with the details and so on. Hope you have a Thursday like a resignation letter imbued with your favourite fragrance, xoT

  10. Bill

    Very intriguing program of shorts, Dennis. Will save them for a bit later; the local indie genre film fest is on on top of everything else, so my movie time is quite committed.

    The festival seems even more of a mixed bag than usual this year. But I just saw the new Carter Smith:
    https://letterboxd.com/film/swallowed-2022/

    Conventional thriller arc, but nicely done with good performances. And a reference to Smith’s old Bugcrush short (which was based on a Scott Treleaven story).

    Bill

  11. Paul Curran

    Dennis, excellent short fin fest. So much to enjoy/learn from!

    Hope you’re handling okay the recent Parisian freeze I saw on media.

    Pxx

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