Vibratile Fields: Films by Ernie Gehr
Sunday, May 15, 2016, 2:00 p.m.
Pro Arts Gallery
150 Frank H Ogawa Plz, Oakland, California 94612
For the second installment of Pro Arts and black hole cinematheque’s collaborative matinee series we look at a collection of films by Ernie Gehr which investigate deceptively simple materials and landscapes of everyday encounter as radically potent portals into the continually unfolding mysteries hidden beneath the surface of our perception. Often constructed in an intricate relationship of individual film frames as well as a concern with what happens “between the frames” or within the subjective experience of the viewer as afforded by the unique combinative encounter of camera, projector, film, light waves, and the human cognitive systems, Gehr’s intuitive capacity for elegantly executed yet perpetually probing works bring new light to a shifting definition of the “experimental” in film. A self taught filmmaker who became a central figure in the fields of Structural Film and the avant-garde communities of New York and San Francisco as well as a long time teacher in the fertile grounds of the SFAI Film Department, Gehr continues to make works that expand and investigate our ways of seeing.
All films on 16mm prints courtesy of Canyon Cinema Foundation.
About some of the films:
The frame encloses a rush of diagonal streaks in black and white without any distinguishable depth or recognizable imagery. The speed is so great and the optical highlights so homogenous that it is very difficult to determine whether the movement is downward from the upper left corner of the screen or upward from the opposite corner. I assume that this puzzle is integral to the experience of the film, and furthermore that Gehr deliberately transformed the natural landscape into the very perceptual paradox which Faraday noted in the movement of spinning wheels and which subsequently became the theoretical basis of the phenekistoscope and all subsequent machines for presenting the illusion of movement. … Nature is so blotted out that we can only take his word for where and how it was shot. Curiously the natural sublime sneaks back into the film by association. The rush of lines and the spires of shadows suggest cascading waters, mountains and pine forests.”
– P. Adams Sitney, monograph on Ernie Gehr, 1980
“[A] view from a Brooklyn apartment sublimates Hitchcock’s voyeurism into a frenzied engagement with the visible. The film varies exposure or racks focus so that the flickering, spatially ambiguous patterns that press the limits of the frame momentarily dissolve themselves as tree branches or a fire escape or a shadow caught on the screen of someone’s laundry rippling in the breeze. ‘I cupped one of my hands in front of the camera lens and attempted to make tactile to myself light, color and image,’ Gehr explains in his notes, linking the film to his father’s death and calling it a ‘hopeless attempt’ to render the ephemeral tangible.”
– J. Hoberman, The Village Voice
“For Gehr, SHIFT broke new ground, hence perhaps a pun in its title. The film is his first to employ extensive montage. The actors are all mechanical – a series of cars and trucks filmed from a height of several stories as they perform on a three-lane city street. Gehr isolates one or two vehicles at a time, inverting some shots, so that a car hangs from the asphalt like a bat from a rafter, using angles so severe the traffic often seems to be sliding off the earth, and employing a reverse motion so abrupt that the players frequently exit the scene as though yanked from a stage by the proverbial hook. A sparse score of traffic noises accompanies the spastic ballet mecanique. Not only the action but Gehr’s deliberate camera movements are synced to the music of honking horns, screeching brakes, and grinding gears. The eight-minute film is structured as a series of obliquely comic blackout sketches: trucks run over their shadows; cars unexpectedly reverse direction or start up and go nowhere.”
– J. Hoberman, American Film, 1982
“SERENE VELOCITY established Gehr’s reputation as a major filmmaker of the generation that began exhibiting works in the Sixties.”
– P. Adams Sitney, Visionary Film
“SERENE VELOCITY is one of the few really unique films I have seen during the last few years. It is so emphatically single-minded and complete in its exploration of the various ironies and multiple levels of its imagery that it leaves one stunned. Just when you have settled into a one-groove visual interpretation of the given space you are viewing, Gehr transforms this space in such a way that your awareness of it becomes something entirely different.”
– Bob Cowan, Take One, 1974
“A literal ‘Shock Corridor’ wherein Gehr creates a stunning head-on motion by systematically shifting focal lengths on a static zoom lens as it stares down the center of an empty, modernistic hallway. Without ever having to move the camera, Gehr turns the fluorescent geometry of his institutional corridor into a sort of piston-powered mandala. If Giotto had made action films, they would have been these.”
– J. Hoberman, The Village Voice