Light and Sound Machine is a monthly screening series of marginalized cinema, both new and repertory, co-presented by the Belcourt Theatre and Third Man Records in Third Man Record’s Blue Room.
A founding father of the L.A.’s avant-garde film scene, an influential professor at CalArts, and an optical effects pioneer, Pat O’Neill is best known for his short works which are highly graphic, layered, and reflexive assemblages based on a mastery of optical printing techniques.
In O'Neill's films, boundaries fade, narrative collapses and layers of imagery draw the viewer simultaneously towards and away from linear meaning. O'Neill has combined found footage with experimental montage and compositing techniques to create a graphic language that deals with how different, often disparate, elements assembled together in the frame relate to one another. His innovative optical techniques anticipated our digital landscape well before its time.
Several of his many avant-garde films produced between 1963 and 2006 are considered classics—especially 7362 (1967), Runs Good (1970), Saugus Series (1974), WATER AND POWER (1989), Trouble in the Image (1996) and The Decay of Fiction (2002). WATER AND POWER, his first 35mm feature, journeys through a California of imaginary intensity and was the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner in 1990, hailed as a touchstone for filmmaking in the future. All his work from that decade on has been executed in 35mm and relied upon the optical printer for principal production.
Throughout his career, he has gained an international following with recent retrospectives shown at the Tate Modern, the Whitney Museum and the Centre Pompidou. In addition he has received the Maya Deren Award from AFI and the Persistence of Vision Award from the San Francisco Film Festival, along with grants from the Guggenheim and the Rockefeller Foundations. In 2004-2006, 40 years of his work in film, drawing, sculpture, printmaking and photography was the subject of two major exhibitions, one at the Santa Monica Museum of Art and the other at Cornerhouse in Manchester, England. In his latest show this spring at Rosamund Felsen's Gallery in Santa Monica, he displayed his first prototypes for 3-D sculptural composites in an installation setting. 16mm prints courtesy of Canyon Cinema.
Runs Good (1971, 15min | Sound: Cisko Curtis)
A darkish journey down memory lane, to visit some news events, folkways and thought patterns associated with the late 40s and early 50s. The film is also concerned with such perceptual phenomena as color-space, "false tones" caused by varying black-white alternations of simultaneously seen rhythms set up by multiple repetitive actions, and the use of image outlines as "containers" for other imagery. Sort of a working notebook, which is continued in Easyout and Down Wind...
Easyout (1972, 9min, Color | Sound: Stan Levine, Mix: Don Worthen)
Has to do with a consideration of one possible conceptual model for human existence: that of a primitive form of yard chair, upon which sits The Creator, impassively observing the inexorable flow of His mountains. The name Easyout is derived from a commercially available bolt and stud extracting tool, whose function seemed strangely parallel to that of the film. Awarded first prize at the Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen Film Festival (1972) and the Yale Film Festival in 1972, and exhibited at the Cannes Film Festival in 1974.
Sidewinder's Delta (1976, 20min)
"When a giant trowel is plunged into the floor of Monument Valley, it's as though John Ford had hired Claes Oldenburg to dress his set. The film, O'Neill's most ambitious to date, with a dreamy, narrative subtext underlying its sensuous surface, is framed by abstract animations which denote scratches or scraped-off emulsion in much the same way that Roy Lichtenstein offered a ben-day dot brushstroke as a painterly gesture." —J. Hoberman, The Village Voice
"Almost every sequence in Sidewinder’s Delta concludes with a rough end—punches, flares, white flashes, etc. But unlike the academy leaders of Run Good with their rhythmic, emblematic and referential functions, as well as their purely reflexive alienation effect, these glimpses of film technology in Sidewinder’s Delta serve primarily to delineate and verify the conceptual unit of O'Neill's filmmaking, for we can see directly at what stage his idea was completely formulated, and in the case of some early scenes with sync-punch mattes, exactly what elements were compounded in what way to compose this particular idea structure of ideograph." —William Moritz
Water and Power (1989, 54min)
Its title comes from the Los Angeles water district. Much of the film was shot in the Owens Valley and in an old office building in downtown L.A. and is metaphorically about the exchange of energy between two places. It is also about water, in all of its states, and about cyclical motion: the planets, the tides, the implied rotation of the camera on its axis, and the repetitive actions of the performers. There are also quotations from older movies and their soundtracks, and at times their landscapes become continuous with those of the present. Human habitation in this wilderness is tenuous and risky.
"... reveals a modern city as layer over layer of experience, and makes no pretense of reducing Los Angeles to anything like a single, coherent understanding. In WATER AND POWER, L.A. is not merely an elaborate reality; it is a nearly overwhelming surreality." —Scott McDonald, Wide Angle
"The 'reality' animated by the film is L.A.; its topography and social ambiance, its myths of creation and embedding of a dream. It is surely the greatest of contemporary 'city symphonies.'" —Paul Arthur, Moving Picture