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11 September 2022: In Focus: Betzy Bromberg 3


In Focus: Betzy Bromberg 3

American avant-garde filmmaker Betzy Bromberg has been making experimental 16mm films since 1976. Prior to becoming the Director of the Program in Film and Video at California Institute of the Arts in 2002, Bromberg spent many years as a camerawoman and supervisor for the production of optical effects in the Hollywood special effects industry, utilising skills honed in her astonishing kaleidoscopic experimental films. Her early work often explores women’s psychic interiors and threats to an autonomous body through performance and raw collage techniques, provocative imagery, and humour, tautly woven together by evocative soundtracks. These deeply personal films touch on repressive social structures, American landscapes, ritual and intimacy, “play[ing] on multiple levels, merging politics and poetry, and revelling in the resultant tensions” (Holly Willis). Her most recent feature-length films are formally abstract, light, and sonic explorations, which are nonetheless profoundly emotional meditations on the human condition.

In Focus: Betzy Bromberg spans five decades of filmmaking and is the first in-depth survey of the artist’s work in the UK.

Ciao Bella or Fuck Me Dead
Betzy Bromberg, 1978, 9 min, 16mm

“In Ciao Bella (1978), Bromberg shows us a world of crowded New York streets and hauntingly empty interior spaces, graced briefly by wisps of childish energy and the provocation of nearly naked women. She deftly contrasts such vibrant exuberance with a sense of devastating loss, and the effect is at once brazenly personal (if elliptical) and incredibly powerful. Unfolding desire merges with the ever-present reality of the threat of losing what you love…. In Ciao Bella, one of the final shots is of a jubilant topless dancer caught in a reddish flare and sprocket holes; the picture merges the woman’s vivacious energy with film as a medium, and this is a perfect emblem for Bromberg’s work. She somehow lets her filmmaking and ideas become embodied in the film itself; they are folded together in a remarkable synergy that could almost be construed as some sort of philosophical system for being in the world.”
Holly Willis

Az Iz
Betzy Bromberg, 1983, 37 min, 16mm

A descent into a desert underworld. A macabre tale of life and lifelessness. “In Az Iz, Bromberg builds what might be considered a jazz opera – it’s all saxophone riffs, repetition and fragments, but swells to epic proportions, essaying notions of origins and archetypes. The deepest blues highlight the sky behind three people in the mountains, and later, black-and-white images of twisted and torqued trees resonate with all the mystical glory of Being. Az Iz , with its sense of grandeur and beauty, is downright breath-taking, and the effect is sublime.” – Holly Willis  

Body Politic (God Melts Bad Meat)
Betzy Bromberg, 1988, 40 min, 16mm

"The body, culture and nature are also at stake in Body Politic, a film that goes to a hospital operating room, research laboratories and a family picnic to outline the issues raised by genetic experimentation. With her typical serious humour, Bromberg explores both the claims of science (we can improve human life) and the claims of religion (God made perfect beings) and implicitly asks the question, 'How do we know when we've gone too far?' ... There's no voice-over and the argument is made by an athletic juxtaposition and testimony." – Helen Knode

Followed by a Q&A with Betzy Bromberg

Curated by Charlotte Procter (LUX), with Valentine Umansky & Carly Whitefield (Tate Film).

Screening as part of the Open City Documentary Festival