Monday, October 16, 2006

An Astronomer in Hollywood- Part 2

Part I was the first-year film student biography; the "follow your dreams" biography. It ended with me unable to afford CalArts and settling for an in-state film studies education under the guise of a degree in French to make the parents happy. Go ahead and ask how much I've been able to do with a degree in French...

The foundation biography picks up where that left off and goes something like this (trimmed slightly so as not to bore):

In 1998, I began working with legendary filmmaker Stan Brakhage as a student projectionist at the University of Colorado. I discovered that we shared many of the same foundations. Although my passion for film was firmly in place, Brakhage opened my eyes to the possibilities in the cinematic medium. We soon became close colleagues and I learned much about his hand-painted film techniques.

In 1999, I traveled with this newfound passion to Paris where I studied experimental films with filmmaker Pip Chodorov and began my first animation projects using a Super-8mm camera. I furthered my film studies by traveling to the Cannes Film Festival as an intern. I lived in France for six months while I wrote my thesis on the films of Fran├žois Truffaut, for which I graduated cum laude (see above comment on "degree in French").

Upon returning to the States, I was eager to apply this knowledge to my own film work, but desired a distinct voice. Serendipitously (because this was a grant application and it is important to have at least one six-syllable word), I was called upon to aid a physics professor with a presentation involving crossed Polaroid filters on an overhead projector. Under normal conditions, this would block out most of the light and the result would be a black screen. However, the demonstration was to show the properties of birefringent (double-refracting) materials, such as liquid crystals. The result was a screen full of vibrant, changing colors, produced by the bending of nothing more than a plastic fork. I was presented with the final piece in my desire to find beauty in the mundane: polarized light.

My imagination was ignited by the possibilities within this newfound world. I realized that the technique used to project these materials onto a screen could be modified in order to film them. I acquainted myself with various birefringent materials readily available in the world around me: plastics, soaps, liquid crystalline paints and cosmetics. I experimented with different lighting and equipment setups. Bending, twisting and congealing became my new brushstrokes. I soon had complete control over the color spectrum. My medium became light itself.

I moved to New York where I gained access to an optical printer and made my first films. “Gossamer Conglomerate” (below) made use of cut pieces of birefringent polyester splicing tape, placed upon clear film leader destroyed by "vinegar syndrome." I shot the film through crossed Polaroid filters, which isolated the vibrant colors of the splicing tape. By applying these fresh film materials to the decayed leader, I made film that represented the life cycle of film and its rebirth as a new and personal work. It was suggestive of a butterfly’s flight from the darkness of the chrysalis.

In “The Light Touch Dust Nebula,” I painted upon this colorless film leader with thermotropic liquid crystal paint. Used in mood rings, this paint changes color with heat. As the film sat in front of the lamp of the printer, the paint changed color in each frame, giving the image the look of twinkling, luminescent dust. Finally, “Munkphilm” (below) employed plastic that I had melted onto the same clear film leader. It was a cinematic meditation on melted plastics in a plastic medium.

I gained employment as an optical technician and film and video artist at a film laboratory in New York. I was granted me access to film equipment and various emulsions. I collected objects that would ordinarily be thrown away in order to expose their beauty under polarized light. In this unique and ambitious recycling program, a discarded plastic wrapper or spool of unwanted film became a prism. To make my film “Ether Twist,” I used these bits of discarded materials along with recordings of very low frequency (VLF) transmissions from aurorae, thunderstorms and sun spots. I created “Snow Flukes” (below) by applying heat-sensitive liquid crystal paints to a 1920’s silhouette cartoon that had been abandoned in the film vaults. From strips of discarded lab tests, I created “Sweet Intuition,” meticulously cutting out thousands of 16mm frames, pasting them on 35mm film with birefringent glue, and filming them through crossed-polarizers.

I set out to complete my most ambitious project to date: “The Galilean Satellites,” a film series dedicated to Stan Brakhage. The films explored the possibilities of life on the four largest moons of Jupiter, discovered by Galileo. Just as his discovery changed the popular view that the Earth is not the center of the solar system, I hoped to offer the view that the amazing beauty seen on this planet is a common thread connecting the Universe. This series of four films incorporated several birefringent materials upon recycled film stock and original footage. The soundtrack consisted of radio transmissions from various space probes of the atmospheres of celestial bodies. In this way, I was not only exposing the unseen vibrancy in seemingly ordinary and colorless materials, but the unheard symphonies emitted from seemingly silent objects. I hoped that they would be, as Jonas Mekas would later comment upon seeing them, "The true music of the spheres."

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