The 15th Black Maria Film & Video Festival

Stanford Cubberley Auditorium 1/22/96

by Ofer Matan

The Black Maria film festival, named after Thomas Edison's first motion picture studio, travels around the country and showcases independent and experimental film and video. In the recent showing at Stanford, only a small part of the collection was exhibited.

Unfortunately, the organizers started the event at 10 p.m. which led to an exodus of viewers after midnight. I regrettably tore myself away around 2 a.m., when only a handful of diehards remained. The festival has films of all sorts: animation, art, collage, documentaries, computer manipulations and regular old chronological stories. I tend to favor the experimental films - the ones that are the furthest away from what you would see even at an 'art film' theater. My most vivid memory from the festival a few years ago is a film in which a short segment of an old black & white film or TV show was segmented into pieces, which were then repeated and juxtaposed. The manipulations were similar to the way in which minimalists such as Steve Reich manipulate music.

Several of this year's films use this idea of manipulating the film itself as a visual art form. In Ariana Gerstein's Losing Touch, the celluloid itself is physically slashed, cut, and respliced, followed by a visual collage including typewritten letters of various fonts. Cloth and Bone, by Anouck Iyer, presents a layered collage of lacy objects, giving an ethereal feel.

A few films featured computer-manipulated images. Karl Staven's Silence is a short piece of film depicting an old woman hobbling down an eastern European street, shown through many different resolutions, angles, and textures. The film comments on the war crimes that occurred during the siege of Sarajevo, and ends with the woman shot dead. I found that the ending was not well incorporated into the rest of the film, which was sufficient to convey the somber reality.

Rythmus 94, by Thomas Renoldner, pays homage to Muybridge's famous serial photographs of a running horse. The subject here is a man walking across the screen. Through computer manipulations, the image forms wondrous textures and patterns which follow, or are followed, by the filmmaker's original soundtrack.

There were quite a few animated films and videos. In Form and Void, directed by John Campbell, waves and shapes develop into patterns similar to the inkblots of a Rorschach test. Four Letter Heaven, by Cecily Rose Brown and Jeff Scher, an animated film rich in color and action, is drawn on top of a print of an X-rated film, by rotoscopic tracing. The frivolity is enhanced by the background cha-cha music.

Suzan Pitt's Joy Street uses beautiful and lush animation to tell the story of a woman in dreary surroundings who falls asleep and dreams of surreal Dali-esque scenes of misery. A character reminiscent of Mighty Mouse does a vaudeville number, and the scenery changes to a hyperreal jungle full of tropical flora and fauna. The music is written by ex-Lounge Lizard Roy Nathanson, who is joined by, among others, KZSU favorites Marc Ribot and Anthony Coleman.

Two documentaries were shown. Zeuf, by Stanford student Charlotte Lagard, tells of a woman coping with breast surgery and surfing without a prosthesis. And in A Wild Horse Rider, Dulcie Clarkson tells an autobiographical story of a woman dealing with her estranged, chauvinistic, racist father, who dies of cancer.

In a somewhat mysterious coincidence, Deborah Harry sings on a few of the soundtracks including Joy street and performs in Marco Capalbo's Sandman. Shot in black and white and set to the music of Kurt Weill, Sandman follows a toothless old vaudeville street performer (William Hickey) who imagines through a mistake that Deborah Harry has invited him for a date.

Other weirdness is portrayed in Tool, by Shaz Kerr, and Barbie's Audition, by Joe Gibbons. The former is the journey of a female accordion player in Scottish dress who peeps into various buildings and rooms. The latter is a satire, in which a film producer sexually manipulates a silent Barbie doll who is auditioning for a part.

Space prevents me describing all the films shown. A big thumbs up to the Stanford Film Society for bringing the festival to town.

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