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From the dusk of celluloid and the dawn of digital

SIN’s Metalux program inspires Paul Andrew

Paul Andrew is a Sydney-based filmmaker.

“Metalux” is a term which loosely translates as “above light”. It also has an alchemical ring to it. So too do many of the striking films and videos which comprise the program of this name recently screened by SIN (Sydney Intermedia Network). This memorable new media program co-ordinated by artists Jo Law and Redmond Bridgeman brought together 11 raconteurs of transformation and enlightenment, produced by Western Australian experimental film and video artists.

Like their precursors, the UBU group and film-makers like Paul Winkler, these would-be cinemalchemists loosen celluloid from the primacy of its linear and narrative projections. These are films rich with metaphor that seek out the transmutative aspects of film and video structure. They enliven the project of structural film and in so doing evince the spirit of countercultural film-making which informed their predecessors.

These are new media works from the aftermath of structuralism. Each film in the program comprises the mutable imaging from the dusk of celluloid and the dawn of digital. The program, it seems, has been undertaken to continue the project of structural film-making in an era of technological ambivalence. In examining technologies, old and new, it retrieves radical and anarchic film-making tendencies from our collective amnesia and applies them to new media.

To be digital or not to be digital is the question for many low-end new media makers, many of whom have been seduced by Super 8, 16mm and video and who have abandoned what might be termed a “filmic spirit” (and, many would argue, the formal principles, techniques and craft of film) in the race to multimedia and FX.

Each artist has interrogated the structural rupture inherent in the current milieu. Intentionally or not, these artists have also taken to task the very nature of this ambivalence, the similarities and differences of filmic and electronic media. These are often mesmerising and entrancing architectures. The filmmakers imbue these spaces, often handmade, with incantation-like texts, sounds and markings treating the base elements of film and video, its celluloid and electronic fields, more as a collision course for the prismatic and mutable qualities of film’s building blocks.

The program is a triumvirate of structural approaches. First up, works which interrogate celluloid as a constructive premise. Second, those that deploy a diverse range of media from Super 8 to 16mm to video and are completed as a video product. The third intriguing but obscure component is film which explores the relationship between visual perception and visual representation.

Like their precursors, there is a common subtext of sheer exuberance for the wonderment of technological progress. Here the film-makers have combined new and old technologies more for a scratchy obfuscation than elucidation or narrative intent. Each of them, however, has kept their sites (sic) firmly on restoring the glint in the eye of experimental film.

The first section begins with a film as disturbing as it is entrancing. It is the Zen-like simplicity of At No Time, a 16mm film by Martin Heine which sets the tone for the program; its rudimentary and rustic quality highlights film’s meditative, contemplative and introspective possibilities. The prescient catalogue essay by Redmond Bridgeman (from a beautifully designed catalogue) describes it thus, “the simple stripping back of the emulsion brings each frame into consciousness and focuses attention on the temporal structure of film”.

The second section includes Snow Film by Arlene de Souza, Old Earth and the sexy nonsense of Given Leave to Enter by Jo Law. Each uses home movie style Super 8 film to suggest private memory, sentimentality and a retrieval of the brass tacks of film.

The final section includes the more technically sophisticated films like the Wagnerian and highly patterned tour de force Hydra by Sam Lendels using techniques from pre-cinema: the zoetrope and kinetoscope. A remarkable film which, in the current race to high end, high tech multimedia, resonates with a fin de siecle intensity. The trance-like Rinse and Repeat by Bec Dean foregrounds the paradox of machinic autonomy in a humanist world. Each of these films have arousal in mind, arousal of memory, arousal of basics. Each film heightens these rudiments of film structure and history to achieve an aura-like and symbolic nature in this time where new and old technologies collide.

The vortex-like 3D animation Landscape 1 by Soha Ariel Hayes which concludes the program is like the first film, At No Time, strangely primordial. The former from the pre-light of digital and the latter from the beginnings of pre-cinema. Landscape 1 is an amazing film which seems at once visually incongruous and disturbingly vital alongside these overtly low-tech looking films. It consists of images lifted from a book on human skin diseases. The animation has the appearance of a carnal, architectural and technological Mixmaster. It serves as something of a leitmotif for these alchemical days when morphing, transforming and transmuting are de rigeur.

Landscape 1 is a spiralling animation which concludes the films of the more high end ilk. It is also the antithesis of those which precede it. While this created a rich irony for the program and a spectacular finish, it also suggested a convincing narrative within this climate of ambivalence—that the pyrotechnics of high-tech animations will prevail.

This program deserves legs, it deserves box office gold, it deserves to be seen by many more than those who attended the Art Gallery of New South Wales screenings. Metalux is emblematic of the new wave of cinematic changelings who have not forgotten the past, who have not forgotten the future and whose project is to continue restoring the glint in the eye of cinema.


Metalux was presented by Sydney Intermedia Network (SIN) at The Domain Theatre, The Art Gallery of NSW, November 1 and 8.

Paul Andrew is a Sydney-based filmmaker.

RealTime issue #22 Dec-Jan 1997 pg. 28

© Paul Andrew; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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