Artists of the DeCordova Biennial: Influences of the Avante-Garde Films
March 29, 2010 (Mon) - 7:00pm, Coolidge Corner Theatre

The DeCordova Biennial (running now through April 11) provides an eclectic sample of New England's contemporary art scene, emphasizing the quality and vitality of the art being made in this region. In collaboration with the DeCordova event, The Balagan Film Series is very pleased to co-present a a dazzling program of avant-garde films that have influenced the works of two of this years Biennial artists, Laurel Sparks and Xander Marro Join Balagan and these New England artists for a special screening of these amazing films and for a discussion with the artist about their art work and its relationship to the films.


Kenneth Anger - Puce Moment (1949) 16mm, 7 min


"A lavishly colored evocation of the Hollywood now gone, as shown through an afternoon in the milieu of a 1920s film star. "PUCE MOMENT is a fragment from an abandoned film project entitled Puce Woman. The soundtrack used here is the second one; the first was the overture to Verdi's I Villi. The film reflects Anger's concerns with the myths and decline of Hollywood, as well as with the ritual of dressing, with the movement from the interior to the exterior, and with color and sound synchronization." - Marilyn Singer, The American Federation of Arts Biography

Offering a description of himself for the program of a 1966 screening, Kenneth Anger stated his 'lifework' as being Magick and his 'magical weapon' the cinematograph. A follower of Aleister Crowley's teachings, Anger is a high level practitioner of occult magic who regards the projection of his films as ceremonies capable of invoking spiritual forces. Cinema, he claims, is an evil force. Its point is to exert control over people and events and his filmmaking is carried out with precisely that intention. Whatever one's view of this belief may be, what is undeniable is that in creating the few films that he either managed to complete or else released as self contained fragments, Anger forged a body of work as dazzlingly poetic in its unique visual intensity as it is narratively innovative. In many ways, these wordless films represent the resurgence and development of the uniquely cinematic qualities widely considered retarded or destroyed by the passing of the silent era, especially in the area of editing.

According to Tony Rayns, ìAnger has an amazing instinctive grasp of all the elements of filmmaking; his films actively work out much of Eisenstein's theoretical writing about the cinemaÖ. [Anger] comes nearer [to Eisenstein's theories] than anything in commercial cinema and produces film-making as rich in resonance as anything of Eisenstein's own.î

Anger's films are cinematic manifestations of his occult practices. As such, they are highly symbolical, either featuring characters directly portraying gods, forces and demons (Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, Lucifer Rising) or else finding an appropriate embodiment for them in the iconography of contemporary pop culture (Puce Moment, Scorpio Rising,Kustom Kar Kommandos, also Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome). This view of pop culture as vehicle for ancient archetypes is also the basis of Hollywood Babylon, his famous book about the seedier aspects of Hollywood history. In attempting to induce an altered state of consciousness in his viewers, Anger dispenses with traditional narrative devices, although his films definitely tell stories. Using powerful esoteric images and, especially in his later works, extremely complex editing strategies that frequently feature superimposition and the inclusion of subliminal images running just a few frames, Anger bypasses our rationality and appeals directly to our subconscious mind. The structure common to his major works is that of a ritual invoking or evoking spiritual forces, normally moving from a slow build up, resplendent with fetishistic detail, to a frenzied finale with the forces called forth running wild. - excerpted from Maximilian Le Cain (

Red Grooms - Fat Feet (1966) 16mm, 19min

A city symphony, with living comic strip characters and sound, pixilated and animated.--R. G.

The visual panache of American sculptor and filmmaker Red Grooms is unparalleled. Red Grooms was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1937. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the New School for Social Research, New York. In the 1950s Grooms moved to New York City to immerse himself in the art scene. For nearly fifty years Grooms has combined color, vibrancy, and a generous dose of self-deprecating humor to produce art in all media that provokes and delights. He pokes fun at the icons of American politics, entertainment, the art world, while paying homage to his subjects at the same time. No artist since HonorÈ Daumier has had a greater understanding of humor or a more direct connection to his audience. In return, Grooms has earned the public's unqualified admiration and appreciation. As a painter, sculptor, printmaker, filmmaker and theater designer Grooms' career to this point has been prolific. His graphic works alone includes an array of art forms including etchings, lithographs (two and three-dimensional), monotypes, woodblock prints and spray-painted stencils. Throughout the late 1980s and the mid 1990s Grooms devoted himself to a series of prints and three-dimensional works called New York Stories for which he is well known and admired.

Harry Smith - Early Abstractions #1-5, 7 & 10 (1946-52) 16mm, 23 min


Early Abstractions is comprised of six films that vary in length from 2 to 5-1/2 minutes. The works were produced over a 7-year period. As Jonas Mekas of Anthology Film Archives has said, "You can watch them for pure color enjoyment; you can watch them for motionóHarry Smith's films never stop moving; or you can watch them for hidden symbolic meanings, alchemic signs. There are more levels in Harry Smith's work than in any other film animator I know." Inspired by Native American cultures, jazz, the Kabbala, and surrealism, Smith assembled his own cinematic universe of shape, color, light, and time. Early Abstractions reveals the whimsical, mystical side of experimental animation. To create No: 2 Message From the Sun, a film that Smith said "takes place either inside the sun or in Zurich, Switzerland," the artist applied round, removable stickers to the filmstock, painted the film, and then coated the surface with Vaseline. When the stickers were removed, the circles remained in outline and another layer of paint was applied. Thus as the film is projected, the circles' rhythmic patterns seem to travel and grow in intensity through the layering and merging of colors.

Harry Smith's revolutionary animation challenged traditional filmmaking. Applying a variety of iconoclastic techniques to the creation of each film, Smith would use batik, collage, or optical printing to create a tumult of shapes and images that integrates chaos with control. Harry Smith was raised in Washington by parents with an interest in alchemy and occultism. In college, he worked for an anthropologist and lived for a period with a Native American tribe. Around 1945, he moved to San Francisco and became part of a circle of avant-garde artists. In addition to producing more than a dozen films, Smith was a painter, anthropologist, alchemist, and music archivist. Relentlessly curious, Smith was a voluminous collector. His collection of paper airplanes, one of the largest ever, is now at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum and his collection of Ukrainian Easter eggs are now housed in Stockholm's Goteborg Museum. Smith was also a legendary authority on folk music. He compiled and released Folkways Records' influential Anthology of American Folk Music. This compilation was praised by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and helped usher in the folk revival of the 1960s. Smith earned a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1991óthe year of his deathóto celebrate his influential anthology.

Ryan Trecartin - Valentine's Day Girl (2001) BetaSP, 7 Min


Trecartin crafts a fantastical narrative about a girl whose obsessive personal utopia is disrupted. Trecartin's collaborator, Lizzie Fitch, plays a girl obsessed with Valentine's Day. Everything in her hyperactive, sped-up world revolves around Valentine's Day: red, white, and pink love-themed decorations cover every surface; heart shapes abound; Valentine's Day treats are everywhere. Her private festivities suddenly go awry as a hoard of Christmas-themed intruders appear and take her hostage in her own apartment. Gagged and bound, she is forced to watch while her ecstatic but sinister captors stage a frenzied Christmas intervention.

Ryan Trecartin's video narratives unfold like futuristic fever dreams. Collaborating with an ensemble cast of family and friends, he merges sophisticated digital manipulations with footage from the Internet and pop culture, animations, and wildly stylized sets and performances. While the astonishing A Family Finds Entertainment (2005) has drawn comparisons to Jack Smith, early John Waters, and Pee-Wee's Playhouse, Trecartin crafts startling visions that are thoroughly unique. Kevin McGarry writes, "Ryan Trecartin has established a singular video practice that in form and in function advances understandings of post-millennial technology, narrative and identity, and also propels these matters as expressive mediums. His work depicts worlds where consumer culture is amplified to absurd or nihilistic proportions and characters circuitously strive to find agency and meaning in their lives. The combination of assaultive, nearly impenetrable avant-garde logics and equally outlandish, virtuoso uses of color, form, drama and montage produces a sublime, stream-of-consciousness effect that feels bewilderingly true to life." – courtesy EAI