Close Up

23 February 2010: Histories of the Avant-Garde Part IV

Presented by Close-Up and The Dog Movement: Five American masters all explore dailiness, film as a stage for performance, and most importantly the possibilities of using music with equal importance to image.

All My Life
Bruce Baillie
1965 | 3 min | Colour | 16mm

In All my Life we see a slow pan from left to right of a fence and rose bush with an Ella Fitzgerald song, the simplicity of which is contrasted with the brilliance of its technicolour. Like a single line in Bruce Baillie's diary, the film represents a fragment of the filmmaker's oeuvre and its unashamed brevity keeps us hanging on expectantly despite the song's and pan's completion. The roses, the intensity of colour, the full orchestra and Ella's unmistakable sound produces the sensation of a lush glimpse into a world long gone.

"One shot, early summer in Mendocino. Song, All my life by Ella Fitzgerald with Teddy Wilson and his orchestra." – Bruce Baillie

Bessie Smith
Charles Levine
1964 | 14 min | B/W | 16mm

A cinematic tribute to the late blues singer Bessie Smith, with Bessie Smith as she appeared in the 1929 film St. Louis Blues and songs sung by her as well as a commentary read by Joseph Marzano.

Larry Gottheim
1970 | 11 min | Colour | 16mm

Larry Gottheim's Harmonica is a celebration of improvisation and it is the film that bridges Gottheim's sublime single-shot works of the early Seventies with the introduction of sound that would preoccupy the filmmaker for the next forty years. Enthusiasm and playfulness intertwine as a man playing the harmonica rides around New York State in a car. The sunlight and the wind are the elemental forces behind image and sound. Music becomes sound and sound becomes music in a nod to Coleridge's Romanticism.

Little Stabs At Happiness
Ken Jacobs
1963 | 15 min | Colour | 16mm

Ken Jacobs' seminal Little Stabs at Happiness has a magical, beguiling soundtrack that utilizes Jacobs' own 78s record collection and a humourous, self-referential voice-over. The music allows for the perfect platform for the subtle lived-performances of Jack Smith, Jerry Sims and co. who seem at once so embracing and all-knowing of the camera and yet resigned to their New York City-dwelling destitution. Humour and melancholia synthesize in both music and image with a sense of ease and lucidity that sustains the film's vitality to this day.  
"Material was cut in as it came out of the camera, embarrassing moments intact. 100' rolls timed well with music on old 78s. I was interested in immediacy, a sense of ease, and an art where suffering was acknowledged but not trivialized with dramatics. Whimsy was our achievement, as well as breaking out of step." – Ken Jacobs

The Blues Accordin' To Lightnin' Hopkins
Les Blank
1967 | 30 min | Colour | 16mm

"In his own words and his 'own own' music, Lightnin' Hopkins reveals the inspiration for his blues. He sings, jives, ponders. He boogies at an outdoor barbecue and a black rodeo, and takes you with him on a homecoming visit to his boyhood home of Centerville, Texas. The film reaches past the impish bluesman himself into the Blues itself, into the red-clay Texas, into hard times, into blackness, into the senses." – Les Blank