Next To You: A Program of Films Selected by Claire Bain–Canyon Cinema Salon 5/4/15

Andy Warhol’s Unfinished Symphony

Please join Canyon Cinema on the evening of May 4th, 2015 at New Nothing Cinema for the next installment of our Spring 2015 Salon series. This month, artist and filmmaker Claire Bain will present a selection of 16mm films from Canyon’s collection that function within systems of identity, representation, persona, and power.

The Canyon Cinema Salon Series is a FREE event hosted at New Nothing Cinema (located at 16 Sherman St, off Folsom between 6th and 7th in SOMA).

7:00pm- Reception
7:30pm* – Screening and discussion.
*Note: Street entrance locked at 7:30 – please arrive on time.

Program Notes by Claire Bain:

“…But if there is no space between consciousness and the world for self-representation, precisely how can one ‘put on an act’? How can simulation be possible without a void between consciousness and an imaginary? Accepting this most ‘melancholy’ of all possible worlds, we find nonetheless that some Others are still more incommensurable than others.” – Keith Sanborn, Modern all too modern

“Chronicles of a Lying Spirit (by Kelly Gabron)… bitingly undermines the contemporary notion of a unified, authoritative ‘history’ as commonly represented in film narratives…” – San Francisco Cinematheque, Consciousness Cinema/Contested Personas

“…But somehow the way the ending robs the earlier inky images of their power leaves a real openness…”     – Monica Raymond, letter to Abigail Child about Mayhem

“I don’t know where the artificial stops and the real starts.”– Andy Warhol

Next To You – a Canyon Cinema Salon with Claire Bain

The 16mm film is an invention without a future. I can’t help but feel that current cultural and political context supersedes all else that I would want to say about these films. They were made 40, 30, 20 years ago, by persons from Amsterdam, New York City, and Los Angeles. All intersected San Francisco for a time, and moved on, but the films remained. To walk into Canyon Cinema now is to step into a silvery memory of the old place on 3rd Street, a very similar setup. You pass through the long serene concrete hallways and open the door right into the archive. The walls are lined with the Objects themselves; there is no reception desk, no index, no mediation to greet you. The films can be seen on the shelves, one could open the cans, hold the strips of “little pictures” up to the light. To experience them in their function as moving images with intended sound, you can sit in a small room with the projector, you can glance at it and see the film on the reel, hear the sprockets being pulled through…

Celluloid film has become more of an art object than media, because of the current culture of viewing. More museums have film projectors, less cinema venues do. Most middle class people watch moving images on demand, either on cable tv or the Internet, or a melding of the two.

*          *          *          *

Roland Barthes, in Camera Lucida, speaks of the overall image in a photograph as the studium, and the bit that punctures the field of prescribed meaning as the punctum. All of this evening’s films function as inversion of those parameters: they have taken the representational function of various forms of cinema and reshaped it into visually compelling, sometimes funny, incisive social and visual critiques, and they are, each one of them, a big punctum obliterating the studium around us that is our mass culture…

The program:

Claire Bain is an artist working in analog and digital mediums. Usually her foundations in film art are elemental in her work. Tonight she presents three films from Canyon’s collection that resonate with her interest in representation and persona. All three films are masterful in form, each uses character in a unique way, yet all three implement generalization to point up the distancing that people experience as a result of identity/power systems based in social capital, gender, and/or race.

— Ms. Bain will discuss her current work in progress.

— Two of Bain’s early 16mm films, ITSME and Found Out, will be presented among three seminal works from the collection:

Andy Warhol’s Unfinished Symphony (1975) by Babeth

Mayhem (1987) by Abigail Child

Chronicles of a Lying Spirit by Kelly Gabron (1992) by Cauleen Smith.

*All descriptions written by Claire Bain. For alternate descriptions of these films, please see their respective pages, accessible via hyperlinks

Andy Warhol’s Unfinished Symphony (1975) | Babeth | 26 minutes | B&W | Sound

Featuring George Kuchar, stunningly gorgeous and demonstrating formidable acting – just another one of his many talents. Babeth used Andy Warhol’s words in her script; he is blithely played by Hank Pitcher. Filmed in the Walter/McBean Gallery at the San Francisco Art Institute, this drama questions the disconnection between people, a reflection on the 1970s’ cold trajectory away from the loving revolution of the 1960s. This film is rich in visual texture that masterfully supports a choreography of melodramatized yearning and desire. But just below the surface is a true concern for human connection.

Mayhem (1987) | Abigail Child | 20 minutes | B&W | Sound

Made a decade after Andy Warhol’s Unfinished Symphony, this is perhaps another side of the same coin. A New York film, the energy and pace is ramped up. Gender, desire, control, and violence are polarized into stronger contrasting black and white; the visual motifs of stripe and pattern produce a highly stylized tableau. Masterfully edited with the finesse of a virtuoso poet, this composition of imagery styled on Film Noir, …”soap opera thrillers, and Mexican comic books…” (-Abigail Child) works with a sound track that keeps you on your toes. The film is extremely concentrated, its density approaching the gravitational pull of a black hole. Really, what’s going on is that generations of struggle (“…Sexuality evoked as a line against which the body can move…” -Abigail Child,  A Motive for Mayhem) are played out in this 20 minutes, with an emphasis on the slippage at the time — the 20th century was winding down and things weren’t looking any better: Is this what you were born for? Prophetic, cautionary, sensual, scary all at once, Mayhem demands a lot, but it’s worth the effort to take it in.

Chronicles of a Lying Spirit by Kelly Gabron | Cauleen Smith | 1992 | 13 minutes | Color | Sound

I’ve always wondered about this film, reading with interest its description in the Canyon catalog: an alter-ego, a scrapbook, hmm. Finally seeing it was a surprise and a challenge. Dense and sharp; like Abigail Child’s films in that you need to try and look at every frame, and really listen…there are a lot of layers, visual, textual, sonic. It could be a very San Francisco film: a mention of gentrification/takeover (see also: Flag Wars by Linda Goode Bryant and Laura Poitras), and it was made here. Here the narrative and voices are at odds, think “voice” as in writing and you’ll have your work cut out for you.  All of this meaning, this universal history that the protagonist lays on herself like a 2-way membrane of reclaimed vs reductive history…Twenty years later, White Guilt has unraveled, and mobile media has imploded, exposing the horrors that those privileged enough to feel guilty had no clue about, the extent to which Black lives are still shattered. And as for the narrator saying she’ll put her own damn videos on TV: now there are Shonda Rhimes’s popular TV dramas-but does it help Black women to be depicted as the president’s Side Chick (in Scandal)? And will The Wire, called Quality TV, do anything better than assuage vestiges of guilt by paving them over with contempt?


These films demonstrate that dis/connection to one another via race, gender, sexuality, and/or desire is intrinsic to all human experience, and impacts the wholeness of being human. These matters are bound up in the overall existence of people, and they are not separated out in these films, but presented in balance. This provides a super powerful textual politic of humanity that is completely free of rhetoric. All three filmmakers use mastery of specific visual composition and sound to lay out the human imperative in ways only possible through the considered use of cinema.

Also included in the program will be two of Claire Bain’s short 16mm films from the collection:

ITSME | Claire Bain | 1986 | 2 minutes | Color | Silent

Super8 film optically enlarged to 16mm. My first in-depth film project, made while studying traditional filmmaking at City College of San Francisco. My work was a little bit weird in that context, the speed and silence not understood, except by the great teacher Phil Green, my first film teacher, who knew the possibilities of the medium. It silently speaks to media representation, objectification, infantilization by juxtaposing images based on content and movement.

Found Out | Claire Bain | 1986 | 2 minutes | Color | Sound

A compilation of bits of image and sound gleaned from editing bins at the San Francisco Art Institute, and discards from my City College days. I put it all together as a comment on sync-sound film, with undertones of gender wonder–look closely…

About the Artist:

Originally from New Mexico, Claire Bain now lives and works in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute; her art practice incorporates writing, painting, sculpture, and digital media into work that investigates systems-power-identity. She has served on the board of Canyon Cinema, guest curates and helps with Social Media at Artists’ Television Access (ATA). She works part time at the San Francisco Public Library, where she has initiated a partnership with ATA to present a series of 16mm films from the library archives. Her films and videos have been shown in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City; her performances and installations have been presented locally, and she has painted several murals in San Francisco.


This is from her original bio, now (in 2015) over 20 years old. It still applies:

My film work has informed my painting and photography, and vice versa. I have two approaches to film/video. One is more formal, primarily concerned with light, composition, emulsion and rhythm; meaning reveals itself gradually or indirectly. The other approach is a direct communication of thoughts, observations and questions through the use of characters. Occasionally both approaches are used, and with the latter, more narrative, approach a bit of the former always creeps in to cause a tiny (or not so tiny) rupture. I grapple with the media indoctrination we in this society have had; it disgusts and fascinates me at the same time. That is why I imitate it, and the culture it represents. In doing this I’m also trying to find where I fit in. With my formal, “experimental” work I find the answer in a similar way to the way I sense my belonging when I commune with nature. That work is ultimately the most important to me; I need to do it and to experience the work of other film artists. It is a most direct and unique form of communication.