Now Playing! Avant-Garde Masters Meet at S.F. Cinematheque’s Crossroads

Scott Stark, Still from 'Love and the Epiphanists (Part 1),' 2018. (Courtesy of SF Cinematheque)

With apologies to Shakespeare, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your narrative films.” Old Will might well have anticipated the ineffable beauty and pioneering necessity of avant-garde cinema—that is, works of personal expression that draw on the entire spectrum of aesthetics and techniques. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from visionaries like Luis Buñuel, Max Fleischer, David Lynch and Terrence Malick, and from early MTV and some TV advertising, it’s that non-mainstream image-making doesn’t always mean inaccessible.

The tenth edition of Crossroads, Steve Polta of San Francisco Cinematheque’s sensational compilation of the best avant-garde work of the last year, raises one’s spirits in ways that only art for art’s sake can. Although many of the 56 artists represented across ten programs at SFMOMA from Friday through Sunday, June 7 to 9, are incensed at the state of the world, their creativity (not to mention their resistance) is life-affirming.

Lydia Moyer, Still from 'The Forcing,' 2018.
Lydia Moyer, Still from 'The Forcing,' 2018. (Courtesy of SF Cinematheque)

Lydia Moyer’s thematically ambitious The Forcing, which anchors the Friday late-night program “strange weather,” opens with a vast flock in flight, fleeing a sinister, red-tinted tornado. Recurring shots of melting glaciers and Western wildfires, of endangered butterflies and bees, are intercut with protesters blocking a highway and police violently breaking up an Occupy Wall Street encampment. Moyer presents the use of power against people of conscience, in the midst of global warming, as a failure of leadership. Yet the film isn’t so much a polemic as a question, suggested by Diane Cluck’s haunting “Red August” on the soundtrack: Are enough people in touch with both their residual humanity and nature to save the planet?

Music is a key element for Brazilian filmmaker Cristiana Miranda, who will be at SFMOMA Saturday afternoon for the “other voices other rooms” program. She makes excellent use of a terrific drum-based score to evoke the experience and legacy of African slaves in the haunting Sobre Aquilo Que Nos Diz Respeito (So Many Voices in the Silence Now).

TR2/Laura Gillmore, Still from 'cold soup, raw meat, pubic hair,' 2018.
TR2/Laura Gillmore, Still from 'cold soup, raw meat, pubic hair,' 2018. (Courtesy of SF Cinematheque)

T2R/Laura Gillmore’s cold soup, raw meat, pubic hair, an on-point two-minute takedown of online juxtapositions and internet marketing that was part of a 2018 installation at the Minnesota Street Project, is included in “yes yes yes no no no” on Saturday afternoon. Gillmore’s witty self-exposure—splashing her naked body with strawberry soup, or is it blood?—suggests an affinity with the brave body of work of Carolee Schneeman, whose passing in March this program commemorates.

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Scott Stark’s mesmerizing, entertaining and informative new performance piece, Love and the Epiphanists, is the centerpiece of Crossroads’ final program on Sunday night, “i’ve returned to see how strange it feels.” Incorporating slides and live voice-over to conjure a romance in the wake of Earth’s inevitable environmental apocalypse. Stark builds his narrative from shards of 35mm trailers. Trashing Hollywood’s clichés at every turn, Love and the Epiphanists encapsulates a few foundational principles of the Bay Area filmmaker’s long, brilliant career: A deep love of cinema, and an equally deep loathing for the entire industry that has betrayed and trivialized it.

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