The “Decorative Film” Program

Carte blanche given to Philippe-Alain Michaud

12 - 14 MARCH 2008

When we stop thinking of the movie screen as a window onto a fictive depth in order to see it as a surface on which to inscribe things while favoring the plastic dimension of the film image at the expense of its documentary and realist dimension; when we question the implicit presupposition that makes film the opening of photography to movement and time in order to see in the real shot just one possible application of film, then film will be revealed as less an art of the figure than an art of the field and line, that is, as a decorative device. (P.-A. Michaud)

Philippe Alain Michaud is the curator in charge of the film collections of the Georges Pompidou Center. He is the author of Aby Warburg et l'image en mouvement (Paris, Macula, 1998), Le peuple des images (Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 2002), and Sketches. Histoire de l'art, cinéma (Paris, Kargo-L'Eclat, 2006). He also organized the show Comme le rêve le dessin at the Louvre and Pompidou Center in 2004 and is responsible for display of the Pompidou's permanent collections, Le mouvement des images, the Pompidou Center, 2006.

Wednesday 12 March – 7:30 p.m.
Almost monochrome

Nathaniel Dorsky, Pneuma, United States, 1977-1983, 16 mm., 28 min.
Nathaniel Dorsky, Alaya, United States, 1976-1987, 16 mm., 28 min.

Nathaniel Dorsky is one of the major representatives of the experimental school of San Francisco. Since the 1960s he has been creating a completely independent body of work that ignores the constraints of time (a film that runs a few minutes may be twenty years in the making). Most of Dorsky's films are designed to be screened at 18 f/s and are therefore silent. Shown at 24 f/s, the speed of sound film, his works are shorn of their auratic meditative quality. Dorsky aims to keep his images at the threshold of sparkling which is also the threshold of the cinematographic illusion, "I'm interested in the direct relation between light and the viewer. The screen constantly changes its properties: from window it is transformed into a floating energy field and a simple beam of light projected against a wall. Silence allows these transitions, which are both poetic and sculptural, to develop and be seen." The images making up Pneuma come from a stock of expired reels of film which were developed without being exposed. As Dorsky sees it, each displays a particular emotional quality. Alaya, on the other hand, alternating wide shots with views captured through a macro lens, was filmed in the sand dunes of the Pacific coast south of San Francisco. In it grains of sand become a metaphor of the grain of film.

Thursday 13 March – 7 p.m.
Trashy ornamentalism

Jack Smith, Normal Love, United States, 1963, 105 min.

Jack Smith, a major pre-Warhol figure of the Lower East Side, sought in his film work to give a travestied interpretation of film history, selecting his models for his impersonations from the pantheon of Hollywood movie stars (Marlene Dietrich, Maria Montez, Yvonne de Carlo...). Yet beyond movie references, his films are suffused with the theme of the ornamental, the roots of which can be found in Venetian painting, in particular the visual system elaborated by Veronese, whose paintings hanging in the Frick Collection and the Metropolitan especially impressed the filmmaker. Following the scandal of "Flaming Creatures," Smith "spent the summer in the country," declared the filmmaker, "filming a marvelous film in pink and green which will be beyond all doubt the quintessence of kitsch. All of the characters are wearing pink evening gowns, put on simpering airs and stare at the camera."

Friday 14 March – 7 p.m.
The field, the motif

Hannes Schüpbach, Spin, 2001.
Hans Richter, Rythmus 21, Ger., 1921-24, 2'10 min.
Germaine Dulac, Arabesque, France, 1928, 7 min.
Len Lye, Color Box, United States, 1935, 2'50 min.
Harry Smith, Early Abstractions, United States, 1939-56, 23 min.
Robert Breer, A Man and his Dog out for Air , United States, 1957, 2min.
Bruce Conner, Breakaway, United States, 1966, 5 min.
Robert Breer, LMNO, United States, 1978, 10 min.
Hannes Schüpbach, Spin, Swiss, 2001, 12 min.

Overlapping of surfaces (Hans Richter), reduction of objects to a rhythmic arrangement of contrasts and reflections (Germaine Dulac), overlaying of grids and geometrization of color (Len Lye), impression of motifs inspired by the technique of batik (Harry Smith), lines drawn at random turning into unpredictable figures (Robert Breer), mirror constructions and reversed symmetries (Bruce Conner), montage conceived as weaving (Hannes Schüpbach)... A quick overview of the history of experimental film in light of the decorative techniques of treating the film surface.


An evening's program:
General admission: 10.-
Reduced admission: 6.-

In conjunction with "Rencontres cinéma art contemporain" organized by the Haute école d'art et de design, (HEAD – Geneva), from 11 through 15 March 2008:

Wednesday 12 March / James Fazy / 6 p.m.
Talk by Philippe-Alain Michaud

Saturday 15 March / cinéma Bio / 12:15 p.m.
Survey of the collection of the Center for Contemporary Images, from a proposal by François Bovier (HEAD – Geneva)
The films in this program are part of the permanent collection of Center for Contemporary Images/Saint-Gervais Geneva (CIC), a partner of "Rencontres cinéma art contemporain."