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January 20 and 21: Films by Robert Nelson – A Retrospective, parts 3 & 4

Sunday January 20, 2008, 7:00 pm1-20-07nelsonphoto.jpg

At the Spielberg Theatre at the Egyptian

Los Angeles Filmforum presents
In conjunction with REDCAT
Films by Robert Nelson – A Retrospective part 3
With a rare appearance by Robert Nelson!

Born and raised in San Francisco, Robert Nelson is an artist by background, having trained as a painter before unexpectedly becoming a filmmaker in the mid-1960s. By 1967, his short films, characterized by their free-spirited humor, unexpected twists, and inspired setups, were among the most circulated of the American underground.

This screening will present a unique opportunity to hear Nelson’s interesting perspective on his own artistic process – which is informed by his double background as a painter and a filmmaker. In the mid-1990s, Nelson re-evaluated his filmography, and decided to try to re-edit a lot of his films. Some of the re-edits were successful, many weren’t; and some of the films ended up being irretrievably destroyed. The screening will present three successful re-edits (King David, More, and Suite California Stops & Passes: Part 1), followed by a 25-minute reel of the remnants of many unsuccessful re-edits.
– Mark Toscano, Curator

This series will screen prints from the collection of Robert Nelson and the Academy Film Archive.

1-20-07nelsonsuitesm.jpgThis multi-part retrospective will culminate tomorrow night with a completely different program of films and another very rare in-person appearances by Nelson!

Tonight’s Films:

King David (with Mike Henderson, 1970/2003, color, sound, 9min. 16mm)

More (1971/98, b/w, sound, 15min.)

Suite California Stops & Passes: Part 1 (1976/2004, color, sound, 35min., 16mm) (rework-in-progress edit)

worms still writhing after cut by 1/2 (1965-1967, b/w & color, sound, ca. 25min., 16mm)
A reel of fragments. The abandoned remnants of failed re-edits: Thick Pucker, Thick Pucker 2, Oily Peloso the Pumph Man, Portrait of Gourley, Super Spread, Sixty Lazy Dogs, Half-Open & Lumpy, Penny Bright & Jimmy Witherspoon

This multi-part retrospective will culminate tomorrow night with a completely different program of films and another very rare in-person appearances by Nelson!

January 21 @ REDCAT Theatre, Disney Concert Hall
For more details, click here.

Still Underground: Films by Robert Nelson, part 4
Concluding a four-part retrospective.

Mon Jan 21 | 8 pm
Jack H. Skirball Series
$9 [students $7]

Known for prankster experimentalism and on-the-spot invention, the films of San Francisco native Robert Nelson are among the defining landmarks of the post-Beat American underground of the 1960s and ’70s. His free-spirited approach, sharp wit, and artistic rigor marked inspired collaborations with William T. Wiley, William Allan, Steve Reich, and the Grateful Dead, and helped shape a language and style for the burgeoning psychedelic culture. Nelson has only recently made his early films available again, and this evening he presents three: The Off-Handed Jape (1967), The Awful Backlash (1967) and Bleu Shut (1970). Concluding this program is Nelson’s latest major work, Hauling Toto Big (1997).

Featuring a very rare appearance by Robert Nelson!

“The experience of being immersed in watching Hauling Toto Big seems to encapsulate the intangible, elusive nature of the filmmaker’s artistic quest. Robert Nelson’s films appear to me as a voyage of discovery: not only of what the material and conditions of cinema are capable of, but also for truths about life itself. Inevitably linked to the cultural environment in which they were made, they amount to a unique and personal journey through America’s post-psychedelic subconscious.” – Mark Webber

Films for the January 21 screening:

The Off-Handed Jape (1967, made with William T. Wiley, 9min. 16mm) – Print restored by the Academy Film Archive.
One of Nelson’s collaborations with painter and good friend of about 50
years, William T. Wiley. The two of them are challenged to act out
amusing and creative pantomimes while two voices (also Nelson and Wiley) are evaluating their success.

The Awful Backlash (with William Allan, 1967, 14 min., 16mm)
Nelson collaborated on two films with another painter friend, William Allan an avid fisherman – The Awful Backlash and the more rarely seen War Is Hell (1968). Quite unusual and essential in its time, the film is essentially made if one-take of a bad snarl in a fishing line being untangled – creating a powerful, unexpected, and surprisingly funny narrative.

Bleu Shut (with William T. Wiley, 1970, 33 min., 16mm)
New print from the Academy Film Archive
Hailed as a true masterpiece by connoisseurs, the film is broken down minute by minute, with a clock visible in the upper right corner for the entire duration to keep the audience aware of how much time is left. On the soundtrack, Nelson and Wiley play a game, trying to correctly guess the names of various luxury boats and yachts. In between each round Nelson offers us an entertainment of some kind, sometimes found footage, sometimes an unusual or funny shot. Artful and entertaining, Bleu Shut brilliantly toys with audience expectations..

Hauling Toto Big (1997, 43 min., 16mm)
In the mid 1990s, Nelson started assembling this film from a large stack of b/w footage he had kept from sketches, unfinished projects, class projects, outtakes, and other assorted remnants, informed by jazz music, poetry, and the I Ching in its construction. A dense and ecstatic work of fragmented narratives, dream states, chaos and serenity, verité footage rendered into poetry, this is Nelson’s most recently completed film to-date, and a culmination of his cinematic interests. A winner of the Grand Prize at the 1998 Ann Arbor Film Festival, Hauling Toto Big has been so far too rarely screened.

REDCAT is located in the heart of downtown Los Angeles at 631 W. 2nd St., on the northeast corner of the intersection with Hope St. We are housed in the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex but have our own separate street entrance on 2nd St.

More About Robert Nelson

Born 1930 in San Francisco in a family of Swedish immigrants, Robert Nelson studied painting at San Francisco State University and the California School of Fine Arts – where he was introduced to a circle of Bay Area artists that converged into the California Funk Art movement of the 1960s. “This influence, together with the Beat sensibility of the poetry and jazz scenes, and the improvisatory theatre of the San Francisco Mime Troupe (directly involved in his first few films), formed the touchstones of Nelson’s developing aesthetic.” (Mark Webber). His second wife is the legendary Swedish experimental filmmaker Gunvor Nelson, and Nelson started working with film by collaborating with her on two home movies: Building Muir Beach House (1961) and Last Week at Oona’s Bath (1962). Nelson taught at various institutions, including the San Francisco Art Institute, Sacramento State and CalArts, before landing a teaching job at UW Milwaukee in 1979 till his retirement in the mid-1990s. He then retreated in self-imposed isolation to a remote house in the mountains of Northern California – where he began to reassess his filmography.

Nelson has influenced a number of major filmmakers, such as Peter Hutton and Curt McDowell. He was the main force in co-founding the independent distribution company Canyon Cinema in 1966, hiring his former student Edith Kramer (later the head of the Pacific Film Archive) as its first director.

“After years away from the public arena, Nelson has recently begun to show his work again… This willingness to offer the films to new audiences is unquestionably a result of the care and attention they have received in the preservation activities of Pacific Film Archive (Berkeley) and Academy Film Archive (Los Angeles). Now in his seventies, Nelson speaks of “leaving a neat pile” for after his death, and as part of this project, he is attempting to establish definitive versions of his films.” – Mark Webber

Selected Filmography:

The Mystery of Amelia Air-Heart Solved! (1962)
Plastic Haircut (1963)
Oh Dem Watermelons (1965)
Sixty Lazy Dogs (1965)
Confessions of a Black Mother-Succuba (1965)
Thick Pucker (1965)
Penny Bright and Jimmy Witherspoon (1967)
The Great Blondino (1967)
Grateful Dead (1967)
War is Hell (1968)
Special Warning (1974/99)
Suite California: Stops and Passes (Parts 1 & 2) (1976/78)
Hamlet Act (1982)

Special thanks to Alice Moscoso.


December 9: The documentaries of Jessica Yu

Sunday December 9 at 7:00 pm
Los Angeles Filmforum presents:
The Documentaries of Jessica Yu

Jessica Yu is one of the leading documentary filmmakers working in America today. On the opening weekend of her new documentary Protagonist, Filmforum is delighted to look back at Yu’s earlier award-winning documentary work.

Tonight’s screenings:
Sour Death Balls (1993, 5 min., 16mm)
Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien (1996, 35 min., 16mm)
In the Realms of the Unreal (2004, 81 min., 35mm)

Complete program notes here

December 2: Robert Nelson retrospective part I

Sunday December 2 at 7:00 pm
Los Angeles Filmforum presents:
Films by Robert Nelson – A Retrospective part 1

Echo Park Film Center
1200 Alvarado Street (at Sunset, northeast corner)

Born and raised in San Francisco, Robert Nelson is an artist by background, having trained as a painter before unexpectedly becoming a filmmaker in the mid-1960s. By 1967, his short films, characterized by their free-spirited humor, unexpected twists, and inspired setups, were among the most circulated of the American underground. Following up on an EPFC Nelson program in July 2006, this evening will feature two of Nelson’s legendary classics, Oh Dem Watermelons (1965) (with music by Steve Reich) and Nelson’s counterculture epic The Great Blondino (1967), made with artist William T. Wiley. Rounding out the program will be Hot Leatherette (1967), the rarely seen Deep Westurn (1974), and Nelson’s first released film, Plastic Haircut (1963), made in collaboration with Wiley, as well as SF Mime Troupe founder R.G. Davis, artist Robert Hudson, and Steve Reich.

Tonight’s screenings:
OH DEM WATERMELONS (1965, color, sound, 11m)
PLASTIC HAIRCUT (1963, b/w, sound, 15m)
HOT LEATHERETTE (1967, b/w, sound, 5m)
DEEP WESTURN (1974, color, sound, 5m)
THE GREAT BLONDINO (1967, color, sound, 43m)

November 18: Trumpetistically, Clora Bryant

Sunday November 18 at 7:00 pm
Los Angeles Filmforum presents:
Trumpetistically, Clora Bryant and more Jazz Films

In association with the Getty Research Institute’s Côte à Côte: Art and Jazz in France and California, at which Clora Bryant will be appearing. We’re delighted to host this portrait of the musician Clora Bryant, an essential player in the jazz scene of Los Angeles. We will have other short jazz films of California or French musicians as well, titles to be announced. Zeinabu Irene Davis’s new film Trumpetistically, Clora Bryant portrays the life and work of “trumpetiste” Clora Bryant, a largely unrecognized force in the Los Angeles and Central Avenue jazz scenes. Complete program description here

November 15: Gregg Biermann’s Material Excess


8:00PM at Echo Park Film Center
1200 Alvarado Street (at Sunset, northeast corner)
Los Angeles CA 90026

Material Excess (2002-03, DVD, color, sound, 73 min)
Gregg Biermann in person!

Material Excess is a large-scale animated movie, which borrows its structure from Dante’s The Diving Comedy. The animation is for the most part created in a digital process related to the hand-made film tradition. In a photo-editing program, scans of various objects are placed on a digital image strip without regard for individual frames. These images are translated into video sequences and the result is an exploding jumble of images. By its very nature, the animation cannot directly illustrate the various bits of narration that appear in the soundtrack. The two things simply happen simultaneously. Full program description here

Harry Smith’s Mahoganny November 4, 2007

On Sunday November 4th, Filmforum is proud to present Harry Smith’s Film #18, Mahagonny (1970-80, 2 hours, 21 minutes).

This program kicks off screenings of Harry Smith’s films all over the city: “Heaven and Earth Magic” at the LA County Museum of Art, Saturday Nov. 10, 7:30 pm and Alchemical Dreams: The Short Films of Harry Smith at REDCAT, November 26, 2007, 8:00 pm .

This video is not from Mahoganny, but it is a sample of early work by Harry Smith: