Full I love Ben Russell.
Ben is my teacher for my Interdisciplinary Seminar I class on Mondays and Wednesdays at the University of Illinois at Chicago.Â That’s just a fancy way of saying that the class is about art theory, and we mainly focus on films and avant garde cinema, since that’s the kind of work that Ben does.Â He’s a smart guy.Â Very smart.Â In most of the “discussions” we have during class, a lot of us students can’t get a word in edge-wise, because he tends to wrap up all the concepts we discuss into neat little packages.Â He’s also a really funny guy.Â He starts out every class by asking us an off-the-wall question that we have to give our answer for our attendance.Â Questions like, “What’s your favorite cloud animal?” Or “What historical figure has influenced your life the most?”Â Being in Ben’s class is an absolute joy.Â
So, now that my bias is established, last month – September 2010 – Ben was the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s (MCA’s) 12×12 artist.Â What does that mean?Â Well, in the
Full disclosure: I love Ben Russell.
Ben is my teacher for my Interdisciplinary Seminar I class on Mondays and Wednesdays at the University of Illinois at Chicago. That's just a fancy way of saying that the class is about art theory, and we mainly focus on films and avant garde cinema, since that's the kind of work that Ben does. He's a smart guy. Very smart. In most of the "discussions" we have during class, a lot of us students can't get a word in edge-wise, because he tends to wrap up all the concepts we discuss into neat little packages. He's also a really funny guy. He starts out every class by asking us an off-the-wall question that we have to give our answer for our attendance. Questions like, "What's your favorite cloud animal?" Or "What historical figure has influenced your life the most?" Being in Ben's class is an absolute joy.
So, now that my bias is established, last month – September 2010 – Ben was the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago's (MCA's) 12×12 artist. What does that mean? Well, in the interest of not making this post super long, it basically just means that Ben got to be a featured exhibit at the MCA for the month of September. He also gave an artist's talk, in which he showed a series of films, which is what I really want to discuss here. I have chosen three of the seven that we watched at the lecture and provided a discription and a link so that you can view these films too.
All of the films that Ben chose to show were influential to him in some way, and one of the things that Ben is very interested in is how cinema can be an experience. And how that physiological experience can become a platform for transcendence.
The artist's talk took place in a large lecture hall on the bottom floor of the MCA, and the films were shown on a huge projection screen, so please, imagine if you will, these exquisitely powerful films washing over you with an overwhelming sense of all-encompassing-ness.
Invocation of My Demon Brother by Kenneth Anger (11min, 16mm, 1969)
"A mind-bending collage of sonic terror and subversion and fast-paced ritual ambiance founded in the union of the circle and the swastika, a swirling power source of solar energy. Mick Jagger contributes a suitably eerie soundtrack with a newly acquired synthesizer." –Ben Russell
Invocation of My Demon Brother is always a trip to watch. I had actually seen it before Ben's talk, but it's so fun to experience these things on such a grand scale. This film has some parts that freak me out a bit, (I find some of those shots of that albino kid genuinely unnerving) and some parts that just make me giggle. Somehow, I feel like the cult-ish things that are trying to be taken so seriously in the film actually kinda make it seem a little childish. (The film's subjects are part of an actual Satanic cult, and they're preforming a funeral for a pet cat.) But, that aside, Invocation of My Demon Brother does bring up an important and interesting idea; ethnography in film. And, more specifically, psychedelic ethnography. This is something that is intrinsic to Ben's work and is infinitely fun to watch. Watch this on full-screen for a more faithful experience. (Contains male nudity)
Watch Invocation of My Demon Brother
My Name is Oona by Gunvor Nelson (9 min, 16mm, 1969)
"My Name is Oona captures in haunting, intensely lyrical images fragments of the coming to consciousness of a child girl. A series of extremely brief flashes of her moving through night-lit space or woods in sensuous negative, separated by rapid fades into blackness, burst upon us like a fairy-tale princess, with a late sun only partially outlining her and the animal in silvery filigree against the encroaching darkness; one of the most perfect recent examples of poetic cinema. Throughout the entire film, the girl, compulsively and as if in awe, repeats her name, until it becomes a magic incantation of self-realization." –Amos Vogel, The Village Voice
My Name is Oona is just that: transcendental self-ethnography. Oona is a beautiful name, isn't it? If only all magical self-realization was that easy. My Name is Oona is, as the above quote describes, an fine example of poetic cinema. Of course, please watch on full-screen.
Watch My Name Is Oona
Marsa Abu Galawa by Gerard Holthuis (13 min, 35mm, 2004)
"An impression of the underwater world in the Red Sea. The film is a bombardment of images and features the music of Abdel Basset Hamouda, an Egyptian performer. The structure of the film is based on the so-called 'flicker films' in which the unconscious experience of the images is much more important than the actual images." –Ben Russell.
Marsa Abu Galawa was my favorite film that we watched in this screening. Talk about film as an experience! I mean, I'm partial to art and films that are foreign, especially Middle Eastern, but this guy knocked me off my feet – or out of my chair, rather. As stated in the quote, this is a flicker film, so if you have an aversion to watching fast-paced edits, I'd advise against watching this one. I do however, find this film to be extremely beautiful, full of life, mystery, color, and energy. It literally had me dancing in my seat at the screening! It's really such an incredible shame that the ONLY site I can find that's hosting this film doesn't have a full-screen option. So please, if you chose to watch Marsa Abu Galawa, sit as close as you can to your screen, turn out the lights, and, turn your computer's volume all the way up. Watching it that way will hopefully give you a tenth of the experience this film deserves and calls for.
Watch Marsa Abu Galawa
For more information about Ben, his exhibit and the films that he showed at the MCA, here's this. Ben also has a website.