February 27, 2010

THIS WEEKEND! Bay Area Invaded by Ross Lipman’s Multiple Personas

Sid Laverents’ Multiple Sidosis (1970)

In the many years I’ve known Ross Lipman, he’s always been up to something. Avoider of the obvious, lover of zig-zags and unexpected curlicues, the ever-present mischievous glint in the eyes of this former Bay Area film community staple  foretells inevitable trouble. Whenever I hear he’s about to make one of his parachute drops back into town, I know to rip out those days in my engagement calendar, ’cause all plans and preconceptions are about to go KABLOOEY! It’s OK by me – I like surprises, like your classic sudden cream-pie fight, or when a bomb goes off, and you’re left maniacally blinking in shock, ashen but intact, like in the cartoons I watched Saturday mornings when I was a kid… The childish prankster is very much alive in Ross, and true to form, he has many hands in multiple pots. Award-winning restorationist of independent film for the UCLA Film and Television Archive, filmmaker, and the creator of oblique quasi-narrative video works, he’s in town this weekend to present TWO apparently unrelated shows:

photo by John Nance of the Tasaday, the indigenous group discussed in Ross Lipman’s The Book of Paradise Has No Author

First off, at Artist’s Television Access’s Other Cinema this Saturday evening at 8:30 (in other words, tonight), Ross unveils the latest in his Disembodied Theater Corporation’s on-going series of “experimental performance essays”, The Book of Paradise Has No Author. These performances of his always take me down a rabbit-hole in which the everyday and commonplace are revealed to contain astounding dreamscapes, but this particular work promises to up-end all that, for what I recall of its subject is so fascinatingly “surreal” (as they say in the pop rags, a usage I must put in quotes for the blog of a Modern Art Museum), I don’t know how Ross can possibly take it any further—here are some nuggets from the press release: “In the summer of 1971, Ferdinand Marcos announced the discovery of a tribe of primitive cave-dwellers who had lived in complete isolation for thousands of years in the rain-forest of Mindanao, the easternmost island in the Philippines… The Tasaday represented a chance to witness firsthand the origins of civilization, and investigate the very essence of humanity. They also—seemingly—offered Marcos a number of rather unique political opportunities…” This is a story I’ve always wanted to know more about, and Ross’s unique abilities to unpack disparate meanings and elucidate the disjunctions of coexisting realities, conjoined to a super-rare sampling of “ethnographic footage, vintage television broadcasts, (sound) recordings, and still photographs”, frankly has my mouth watering… Ross’s performance is ganged-up with one I don’t know so much about by the Billboard Liberation Front; together, these pieces are billed as Inquiry Towards the Practice of Secular Magic, which pretty much says all I need to know: I’m thoroughly intrigued. Wacky tabaccy will not be required to get me where I want to go this particular evening…

Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep (1977)

Somehow, Ross will be at the Pacific Film Archive the very next (that is, this Sunday) afternoon at 3 p.m. (Ye Gods!) to introduce (his program of Sid Laverents restorations (along with film scholar-curator-maker Melinda Stone).  Did you know Ross is perhaps the greatest film restorationist on the planet? No kidding – his almost 100% photochemical versions of Cassavetes’ Shadows, Faces, and A Woman Under the Influence have knocked the socks off the repertory cinema-going world, his versions of Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep and Kent Mackenzie’s The Exiles caused him to be awarded the National Society of Film Critics Heritage Award for two years running, and his 35mm restorations of four of Kenneth Anger’s Magick Lantern Cycle (including Scorpio Rising, Fireworks, and Rabbit’s Moon) have taken this particular projectionist to such heights of cinecstasy, it’s amazing I could come back to earth in order to write the words appearing before you now…

Sid Laverents’ Multiple Sidosis (1970)

But down I’ve come, and what the hell is this?! I’ve never seen any of Sid Laverents’ work other than a horrifically crappy bootleg of Ross’s version of Multiple Sidosis on Youtube, but the little I’ve seen and read about this body of work and its maker leads me to expect a program at least as off-the-wall as the previous evening’s (and this takes into account the proceedings unspooling in a museum/institutional setting)… Laverents, a one-time vaudevillian, was described by the New York Times thusly: “a distinctly American artist: a rec-room tinkerer with… can-do optimism… Following his own whims rather than any cultural movement, he turned himself from a one-man band into a one-man independent movie studio… Running through all his movies is his sense of humor, which braids vaudeville, Loony Tunes, slapstick, and the drollery of old New Yorker cartoons.” In probably more than one film, Laverents (who died last year aged 100!) combined multiple images – like, dozens – of himself demonstrating his quietly unhinged talents at multiple instruments in a manner which must be seen to be believed, let alone understood… Yes, another must-see show…

All of Mr. Lipman’s activities might seem a little disparate, even scattered, but I’ve come to see him as a re-worked version of what Manny Farber termed a “Termite Artist”. As opposed to the “White Elephant” artist, who announces his or her presence, or ego-based pronouncements at every opportunity, Ross pursues hidden realms within overlooked pockets of culture and society. To veer from Farber’s original conception of the Termite Artist, Ross finds big-game, capital “M” Meaning in his explorations, though it’s circled around delicately, and never gauchely consumed in some kind of ultimate White Hunter-type manner. All of Ross’s work as a creative artist or restorationist is possessed of a sense of the transience of things (whether material or moments in time), the passing of cultural memory, and a romance with the marginal. As heavy as what I’ve just laid down is, you can also tell from what’s discussed above there’s a crucial poetic zaniness running throughout his sensibility, just enough to lighten and render delectable what is a very complex layer-cake, indeed…

Oh, did I tell you Ross’s wife, Charlotte Pryce, is one of the Greatest filmmakers working today? (Don’t take my word for it, do a web search!) This guy is just too much! And his work just keeps rolling out… Check out this still from one of his latest, still to-be-premiered restorations, Barbara Loden’s Wanda (1970):

Barbara Loden’s Wanda (1970)

I’ve longed to see this film for many a year. Ross saved the original, which was in an abandoned stack in storage, scheduled within minutes to be tossed into a dumpster…

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