“The Hubley Studio Show”

Written by Ed Halter on . Posted in Arts & Film, Posts.

Recoder’s performances
typically take place in small cinematheques, where often the projectors are
right out on the floor with the audience. His disappearance into the booth added
even more of a how’d-he-do-that spin to his elaborate and cunning trick
films, which he’ll be presenting again at Pratt this week.

In "Magenta,"
Recoder threads an old, scratchy first-aid instructional movie through the same
projector twice, so that the silent film is superimposed upon itself with slight
temporal lag. On a second projector, he does the same time-delay trick with
another film, but plays only the soundtrack, an easy-listening version of a
Pachelbel tune. The resulting combination forms an exquisite, balletic diplopia.
Two slightly different images of a gauze bandage rolling around an injured wrist
are transformed from mere textbook sparseness into a spectral Baroque mandala.

Similar double-vision spectacles
are crafted from a cheapo 60s western in "Ballad of…" and black-and-white
sports newsreel footage in "Moebius Strip." In these projections,
a more anarchic mix of images creates an odd and disconcerting sense of scale.
At one point in "The Ballad of…," a frontier couple appears to roll
around in miniature form on a dining room table. In "Moebius Strip,"
tiny hockey players are battered about by their own gigantic doppelgangers.

Although not all of Recoder’s
work involves such intense real-time mechanical legerdemain, they’re all
crafted with some level of unconventional trickery. "Paper Print"
was created by xeroxing the film print of an old discarded documentary onto
regular office paper, cutting out the images and meticulously pasting them onto
clear leader with doublestick tape, then tearing the paper off, leaving a splotchy
ink ghost. When projected, the footage appears deteriorated by some unknown
process that seems at once organic and electronic. What’s more astounding
is the optical soundtrack, which actually plays, albeit within a heavy haze
of Edisonian aural static. The tone and timbre of the boring male narrator comes
through clear, though the individual words are completely inaudible.

At his most coy, Recoder
verges on the poker-faced peekaboo antics of conceptual art and Fluxfilm. He
created "1977 Leader" by cutting out all the clear portions of an
old, dust-covered reel of editing slug and splicing them together in sequence.
The audience thus watches about 10 minutes of dust, scratches and hairs. The
sounds of static reach a subtle crescendo before each splice.

Similarly simple and semiautomatic
but far more compelling are his three light-flare films, a series called "Available
Light," made without a camera by exposing raw color stock under slightly
different conditions. The results are like sensuously pulsating color-field
paintings with differing intensities of yellow, orange and red. For the most
impressive and beautiful piece, Recoder turns the projector on its side, creating
a tall window through which billowy pomegranate shapes float and flutter across
a shifting horizon.

Recoder is a soft-spoken
but articulate twentysomething with an air of happening nerdiness, dressed in
spiffy thriftstore mod and sporting a healthy East Bay tan. In conversation,
he refers frequently to the legacies of earlier experimental auteurs and couches
the way he speaks of his own work in the polite institutional shoptalk of academic
smarty-pantisms. But despite his controlled demeanor, there’s an undeniable
spark of generational rebellion in his work. Like a number of his contemporaries,
he combines the formal elegance of traditional avant-garde concerns with the
do-it-yourself shenanigans of underground film and the implicitly nostalgic
flea-market esthetic of postslacker culture.

An experimenter in celluloid’s
End Times, Recoder revels in playing with the technology of 16-mm projection
with the loving gusto only a fellow member of the last pre-VCR generation could
muster. At the beginning of the century, the most adventurous filmmakers positioned
themselves at the vanguard of the newest developments in cinema. At century’s
end, the avant-kids have fallen back on sensual aleatory nihilism, eschewing
revolutionary grandiosity in order to tinker and toy with smart retro grooviness.

Recoder presents "Ciné-Povera"
twice this week. First at the Pratt Insitute’s Wednesday Night Film Series
this Weds., Dec. 8, at 8:30. Admission is free (Enginering Bldg, Room 371, Dekalb
Ave., betw. Hall & Classon Sts., Brooklyn, 718-636-3422). Then at the "Vertigo!
Go! 2000: A DJ/Video/Film benefit for WFMU and Smack Mellon" on Sat., Dec.
11. Tickets are $10 (Smack Mellon Studios, 56 Water St., Brooklyn, for info.
call 201-521-1416 x230).

"The Hubley Studio
by John, Faith and Emily Hubley

retro kiddie-flicks of a more literal sort are offered up at the Quad starting
this Fri., Dec. 10, with a weeklong tribute to indie animation legends the Hubley
family. Parents John and Faith created The Hubley Studio in New York in the
mid-50s, producing a mixture of innovative personal animation with tv commercials
and other commissioned work. Like a cartoony Cassavetes clan, the whole family
got involved in production. Sons Mark and Ray and daughters Emily and Georgia
provided dialogue for films and later helped with the animation process.

John and Faith’s joint
films from the 50s, 60s and 70s fall into two related camps. One group are dreamlike
flights of childhood make-believe based around their kids’ kooky improvised
dialogue. In Moonbird (1959) their two sons chatter on about a hunt for
a magical bird, and the parents’ animation keeps step with their fanciful
banter in colorfully blobby bebop sprightliness against a dark nighttime background.
Their daughters gurgle and giggle through later films like Cockaboody (1973)
and Windy Day (1969), creating more crazy preteen surrealism.

Other films had a more socially
relevant, adult spin. In The Hole (1963) Dizzy Gillespie and actor George
Matthews provided improvised dialogue as two construction workers. A number
of Hubley works were created by basing animation around improvised music from
contemporary jazz musicians like Gillespie, Benny Carter and Ella Fitzgerald.

If the earlier Hubley films
evoke the fairytale splotiness of Chagall, Faith’s later solo work is reminiscent
of the clean neoprimitive surrealism of Klee and Miro. Taking on topics like
the myths of Native Australia in Cloudland (1993) and human artistic
beginnings in Africa (1998), Faith’s work has a whimsical, new-agey
jitterbug quality that verges further onto formal abstraction. Rounding out
the series are a couple of films by daughter Emily, including Pigeon Within
(1999), a cut-and-paste inner journey with a soundtrack by her sister Georgia
and Ira Kaplan, both of Yo La Tengo. While some of the longer Hubley works may
try the patience of your inner child, the earlier work of John and Faith are
classic gems, and the series as a whole feels like a funky family reunion.

The Hubley films are at
the Quad Cinema starting Fri., Dec. 10.