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Between Pop Culture and the Avant-Garde: Little-Seen Films by Women from the Collection of Canyon Cinema

Curated by 2016 Scholar-in-Residence Tess Takahashi.

Between Pop Culture and the Avant-Garde: Little-Seen Films by Women from the Collection of Canyon Cinema. Ranging from 1970–1989, the films display unexpected images by women that comment on how we present and perform ourselves, both in private and in public, in relation to oneself and to pop culture. The screening features works by Coni Beeson, Donna Cameron, Dana Plays, Alice Anne Parker Severson, Elizabeth Sher, Greta Snider, and Jean Sousa.

Elizabeth Sher's "Too Young"

Elizabeth Sher’s “Too Young”

Alice Anne Parker Severson
7m, sound, 1970
A continuous dissolve of 87 male and female nudes. – Canyon Cinema Catalog

“The film’s fascination lies with the suspense of that magic moment, halfway between two persons, when the dissolve technique produces composite figures, oftentimes hermaphroditic, that inspires awe for the mystery of the human form.” – B. Ruby Rich, Chicago Art Institute

Coni Beeson,
13m, sound, 1974
“Of the many films Coni Beeson made for the National Sex and Drug Forum in the 1970s, Women is the most overtly critical of mainstream media representations of women. Canyon’s Catalog describes it as ‘A sardonic film about the clichés laid on women.’ Her films often come with the following suggestions for use: ‘with persons as young as high school age, in a variety of groups seeking to deal with feelings and values about sexuality. Its richness of imagery makes it useable alone, or in combination with other material.’” – Tess Takahashi

Grain Graphics
Dana Plays
6m, sound, 1978
“This short structural film feels like a playful dance that comments on the multiplicity of screens in our environment.” – Tess Takahashi

“Another entirely structural film is Grain Graphics, which begins with two frames of a film strip, on above the other, occupying the middle of the screen, flanked by two vertical filmstrips with smaller frames. ln grainy negative, a small number of figures interact in various ways in each of the frames. Gradually, as if the camera were drawing away, this pattern grows smaller and its units increase correspondingly in number, until at the end there appear to be hundreds of rectangles, all with figures busy in motion.” – Edgar Daniels, Filmmakers’ Monthly via the Canyon Cinema Catalog

New Moon
Donna Cameron
11m, silent, 1987
“Second in a series of paper films made from strips of color Xerography. In these films, the filmmaker is concerned with the film as an object or motion picture “soft sculpture” constructed of 16mm-sized strips. The paper (or emulsion) could be a kind of skin complete with hair and pores, half-tone dots, paper fiber – through which the world is viewed.” – Canyon Cinema Catalog

Jean Sousa
5m, silent, 1982
Swish is a self-portrait taken at very close range.” – Tess Takahashi
“This film deals with the physical properties of the film medium, and pushing those distinctive features to their limit. The subject of the film is motion, and it is an attempt to get inside of it. It was made with a moving subject and a moving camera with an open shutter, the result being that each frame is unique, without the smooth continuity that is expected in film. The subject, a female body at close range, provides an intimacy and eroticism. At the same time it can be seen as a modern version of Futurist simultaneity.” – Canyon Cinema Catalog

Too Young
Elizabeth Sher
3m, sound, 1982
“To me, this film looks as if it was made by George Kuchar as a 13 year old girl making a music video in 1982.” – Tess Takahashi

“Taking off where Brooke Shields left us in her Calvins, this film takes a hard, humorous look at the pressures and frustrations young people (women) (girls) feel as they rush out to explore their sexuality with all the taboos and fears that entails.” – Canyon Cinema Catalog

Greta Snider
12m, sound, 1996
“The film is a documentary road movie about travel, the fallibility of photographs, and the merging of memory and imagination. (…) Portland reconstitutes the trip in a humorous mixture of footage from the journey (taken with a run-down Super 8 camera), interpreted re-enactments, and interviews with the involved parties. The result is a spirited look at independent women and fearless travelers.” – Canyon Cinema Catalog

About Tess Takahashi
Tess Takahashi is an independent Toronto-based scholar and programmer who writes on experimental media, documentary film, and art installation. She is working on two books, Impure Film: Medium Specificity and the North American Avant-Garde (1968-2008) and Documentary Encounters with Big Data: the Experience, the Imprint, the Abstraction, and the Elsewhere. She is a member of the editorial collective for the feminist film journal Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media. Her work has been published there, as well as in journals such as Animation, The Brooklyn Rail, Cinema Journal, Cinema Scope, and Millennium Film Journal. She has been Scholar in Residence at Canyon Cinema in San Francisco (2016) the Film-Makers’ Cooperative in New York City (2015).