IMMORAL MEMORIES I (16mm b&w, sound  10 minutes ) has just been completed by filmmaker Gary Popovich. Gary describes the film's motivation as follows: The film is a personal response to a moment in Nietzche's life when, in his final frenetic year, churning out five books, he hears a horse in the street being whipped. He races down stairs, throws his arms around the horse's neck to comfort it and then falls down himself, unconscious—the last moment of sanity in his life. The film is a personal, emotional response to the inventiveness and energy in Nietzche's life and the inventors of cinema, which propelled us into the 20th century. The film, Gary explains, triangulates three moments in history: the present day, the beginnings of cinema and Nietzche's end. "Nietzche lived one block away from the church that houses the shroud of Turin - a cloth, a fabric on which an image reflects back to us an extremely popular figure, an idol, one might say, a matinee idol; the shroud is the beginning of cinema." The fanciful triangulation is Gary being in the spot where Nietzche wrote the anti-Christ with the shroud one block away (Christ as a ghost image, fading) and at the same period of time, cinema is being invented. "I went to Europe and I found sad, lonely images that peeled away pouring out the energy of a man madly writing the text for the 20th century. The portentous train arriving at the station on the wall of a Paris cafe and me finding fingers on pen through the keys and hammers stinging his songs across the page. How I met Nietzche, now that's a good story..."


The film has three sections corresponding to periods in Nietzche's life: 1844-62 his birth until he abandoned theology; 1863-82 a period of travel, relationships with various people are important to him, the beginnings of his mature philosophy. This period ends with breaks with Wagner, his mother and sister and with Lou Salome. 1883-89 is a time of more travel, his mature works of philosophy, loneliness and a need for friendship and his final collapse.  Moments in Nietzche's life are tied in with moments in the history of the cinema (images from Muybridge and Lumiére). Sounds interesting...let's see it!



I just finished reading an article by J. Hoberman about the film and video components of the Whitney Biennial (Village Voice, June '87) and, while there is much I found myself nodding my head in agreement with, there are a few premises, stated and unstated, to which I take exception. When he recreates for us his first adolescent experiences of underground film-going "in cruddy storefronts and the even wierder basement of a midtown skyscraper," I felt, along with him, the nostalgia for those adventures with experimental—then 'underground' film. Hoberman's adolescent beatnik days of madness, drugs, sexual liberation are equated with greatness and all else pales in comparison. But when Hoberman continues to judge film (and life?) through that adolescent's eyes, although I'm tempted to agree (yes, that energy, that demanding honesty, that naivety) I wonder if there isn't more to be said for viewing work with knowledge, experience, maturity of age. We can't stay adolescents forever, nor should we expect experimental film and its makers to. Interestingly, later in the article Hoberman cites two films in the Whitney Biennial as being 'challenging films by firt-rate artists, Yvonne Rainer's THE MAN WHO ENVIED WOMEN and Ernie Gehr's SIGNAL-GERMANY ON THE AIR '. Both of these films are by mature filmmakers and neither has the kind of shock/titillation/popular appeal of SCORPIO RISING (the film Hoberman repeatedly cites as exemplar of the golden days of the American Underground movement). These are slow-moving films, the first more of the 'theoretical' film Hoberman later laments and the second of the 'intellectual' structural movement.


The article continues. Hoberman goes on to state that 'Individuals (filmmakers) persevere, but the movement seems moribund.' (Is 'death'  the hot  word right now, and continuing to live day to day just ho-hum...) Who is it that needs an identified movement? And who says that the movement need be avant-garde in its impulse? Must experimental film be seen/judged only in so far as it challenges the establishment? Why do we even look to the mainstream cinema to note the effects of or to compare experimental film with, anyway? We know that, though both are film, the 'Hollywood' use is industrial, market-driven and formulaic; experimental films are filmic and individual. Why compare? Experimental films are; they are not alternative to. Experimental films present ways of seeing and experiencing through film. Let's look, see, live, learn, enjoy, be bored, be engaged, be aware, experience.


The article seems to bemoan the marginalization of experimental film - reviewers won't cover "the crazy movies at the Whitney", 'the starvation and squalor of ghetto life' - and yet when Hoberman reports the inclusion of this film within 'academic bulwarks' it is only with regret that 'Where once raving madmen became filmmakers, it was now the turn of genteel professors.' We just can't win! But how much and for how long has avant-garde film been taught in film schools? Is it not, within academia, a fringe? Most film schools teach the popular culture of movies and now T.V. (of the 51 panels at the last joint U.S. and Canadian Film Studies Association Conference, 6 concerned themselves with analyses of television.) So, perhaps it is only fitting that artists use this as a source to subvert or, at least, comment on in their work.


There may have been little strong work in the Biennial or just out there at the moment, perhaps because of the tendency to show immediately everything one makes, but let's discuss/write about what is interesting - and not worry what to name the movement!


This article originally appeared in Cinema Canada January 1989