Chuck Stephens

Exploded View | Suzan Pitt

By Chuck Stephens / September 20, 2021

Suzan Pitt’s Asparagus took four. A handcrafted surrealist masterpiece and in every sense a labour of l’amour fou, the extraordinary Asparagus—in a which a femme sans visage takes pleasure in her garden and shares the bounty of her unearthly delights with a mesmerized audience, all before performing fellatio on an alchemical assortment of possibilities—was animated and assembled between 1974 and 1978.

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Exploded View | Eberhard and Phyllis Kronhausen’s Psychomontage No. 1

By Chuck Stephens / June 15, 2021

People get naked, lips are smacked, groping ensues; macroscopic pondlife lick and suck, bomber pilots release their loads. In ten neurotic minutes, the movie climaxes again and again. Come-on, or plain comedy? Evocative of Ovid, or an altogether obvious joke? Take it off! Take it all off! Take my associative montage…please!

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Exploded View: Steina & Woody Vasulka

By Chuck Stephens / April 5, 2021

Icelandic filmmaker Hrafnhildur Gunnarsdóttir’s extraordinarily warming 2019 documentary The Vasulka Effect, about the protean Euro-hippies and rightfully dubbed “grandparents of video art,” Steina and Woody Vasulka, was exactly the movie I needed to see this winter. Awash in Nordic echoes even as it confronts the modern realities of art-gallery politics and the history of America’s visual-arts fringes, it’s a mythical origin story that’s actually true, all about ancient heroes and ravaging time.

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Exploded View | Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover

By Chuck Stephens / December 22, 2020

By Chuck Stephens When I was young, people spoke of immorality.All the things they said were wrong are what I want to be. Over, under, sideways, down, (Hey!)  I bounce a ball that’s square and round. When will it end? —The Yardbirds, 1966 Scrutable curio and irresistible objet, Michael Snow’s 1975 “artist’s book” Cover to…

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Exploded View | Artificial Paradise

By Chuck Stephens / September 22, 2020

As I type this, it’s 2:00pm in northeast Los Angeles, middle of the afternoon: the sky is brown with smoke, air conditioners are walking off the job, and last night I could barely breathe. Yesterday, it was 113 degrees in parts of northeast LA; the mountains and forests around us are on fire. “Just another day in paradise,” as the most seasoned Angelenos have become all too accustomed to gritting their smiles and facetiously confessing.

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Exploded View | No President (Jack Smith, 1967-1970)

By Chuck Stephens / June 23, 2020

White faces, black flesh, an enormous tusk, a bug-eyed succubus, holes in the plaster, acrid marihuana, vinyl exotica, a Christmas tree: these are the articles constituted. One nation, overexposed, with feather boas and liberation for all. Metamorphosis: tear gas wafts through the roses. And now here we are again, with the end of the Sixties just another Ludovico loop. But is the underground on top of things? At least, at last, No President (reconstituted by filmmaker Jerry Tartaglia) is on Vimeo. Hail to the grief.

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Exploded View | For a Cameraless Cinema: Making Images Move: Handmade Cinema and the Other Arts

By Chuck Stephens / March 20, 2020

By Chuck Stephens “That photography is not a prerequisite for handmade cinema’s production means that we can more easily come to view how artists used a variety of materials—not only paint, but also rain, oil, or electricity—as well as other media, technologies, and practices where cameras might be avoided, in order to pursue the goal…

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Exploded View | Peter Emanuel Goldman’s Pestilent City

By Chuck Stephens / December 29, 2019

By Chuck Stephens Structurally ambiguous and romantically rancid, Peter Emanuel Goldman’s 1965 Pestilent City is a 15-minute, high-contrast black-and-white New York City scherzo of sleaze, dereliction, working stiffs, stumblebums, loitering, malingering, playing, and passing out, filmed in Times Square and along the Deuce during the area’s deleterious decline, halfway between Sweet Smell of Success (1957)…

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Exploded View: Peter Fonda’s Idaho Transfer

By Chuck Stephens / September 23, 2019

“A useless piece of drivel about an obnoxious group of teens who get ‘teleported’ into the future, where they are expected to set up a new civilization in Idaho.”

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Exploded View | Flaubert Dreams of Travel But the Illness of His Mother Prevents It

By Chuck Stephens / June 27, 2019

Undersung filmmaker Ken Kobland’s strange, sumptuous slice of classically minded surrealism, Flaubert Dreams of Travel But the Illness of His Mother Prevents It, created in 1986 in collaboration with The Wooster Group (America’s experimental-theatre ensemble extraordinaire) is, too, a creature born from Flaubert’s polymorphous bestiary.

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Exploded View: Makino Takashi’s Ghost of OT301 

By Chuck Stephens / March 26, 2019

By Chuck Stephens “Like news reports of wartime Japan, films with stories or a precise structure throw images at an audience with their meanings already intact. Rather than making films with my own imposed structure, my method is to abandon structure altogether or, in other words, layer images that once embodied meaning on top of…

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Exploded View: Ken Jacobs’ Nervous Magic Lantern

By Chuck Stephens / December 21, 2018

By Chuck Stephens  Ken Jacobs moves secretively in the half-dark that surrounds his apparatus. (“I’m terrible at keeping secrets,” he later admits to the assembled crowd.) Every ten minutes or so, Flo Jacobs exchanges one of what might be a dozen or so miniature flying saucers with her husband, who feeds the elaborately adorned platters…

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Exploded View | Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty

By Chuck Stephens / September 28, 2018

Though not primarily known as a filmmaker, the great earthworks artist Robert Smithson (1938-1973) had cinematic inclinations, implicit and explicit.

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Exploded View: Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn’s Whacker

By Chuck Stephens / July 2, 2018

By Chuck Stephens In what follows, I have perhaps too wantonly isolated Whacker (2005) from the rest of the work of California video artists Stanya Kahn and Harry Dodge, former collaborators each with substantial solo careers. Indeed, I’ve left bushels of context aside. Why? Because this column is brief and the sun is going down and there’s…

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Exploded View: Bruce Conner’s Crossroads

By Chuck Stephens / March 16, 2018

By Chuck Stephens How many names can you call Bruce Conner? Surrealist, beat, prankster, poet, illustrator, assemblagist, filmmaker, punk. Spray-paint anything you like across Conner’s legacy and someone will think it sticks. A few years ago, a big brain from Harvard hilariously decreed this slipperiest of major American filmmakers a “structuralist” (never mind the centrality…

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Exploded View | Stan Brakhage’s Metaphors on Vision

By Chuck Stephens / December 19, 2017

By Chuck Stephens “Oh, slow-eyed spectator, this machine is grinding you out of existence.”—Stan Brakhage Stan Brakhage’s Metaphors on Vision—first published in 1963 by Jonas Mekas as a fabulously special issue of Film Culture, designed by Fluxus forefather George Maciunas, bound in beautifully corrugated cardboard pierced with an eyehole, beyond whose vellum retina lurked Brakhage’s…

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Exploded View: Bill Viola’s I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like

By Chuck Stephens / September 28, 2017

By Chuck Stephens “Once I spent a dark afternoon in a sleazy Manhattan cafeteria, drowning (or amplifying) my sorrows in black coffees. After this grim affair, I trudged out onto the street only to be met by a wild-eyed disheveled character yelling at everyone who was crossing the street towards him. As I got close…

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Exploded View: Peter Gidal’s Room (Double Take)

By Chuck Stephens / June 23, 2017

By Chuck Stephens “An avant-garde film defined by its development towards increased materialism and materialist function does not represent, or document, anything. The film produces certain relations between segments, between what the camera is aimed at and the way that ‘image’ is presented. The dialectic of the film is established in that space of tension…

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Exploded View: Will Hindle’s Billabong

By Chuck Stephens / March 24, 2017

  By Chuck Stephens  Shreveport, Louisiana-born experimental filmmaker Will Hindle (1929–1987) did two tours in the Army during the ’50s, and worked as a cartoonist and editor for the military newspaper Stars and Stripes during both stints. In between those two tours, he worked briefly for Walt Disney Studios, the youngest animator they had on…

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Exploded View: Gary Beydler’s Mirror

By Chuck Stephens / December 19, 2016

By Chuck Stephens “Foghat haircut,” the critic scribbled. Onscreen, Gary Beydler (1944-2010), one of the greatest American experimental filmmakers of the 20th century, is seated atop what might be a tall white lifeguard’s chair, sporting jet-black aviator shades beneath a fluffy fringe of ’70s rocker locks. He holds a rectangular mirror, proportions roughly Academy ratio,…

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Malcolm Le Grice’s Berlin Horse

Exploded View: Malcolm Le Grice’s Berlin Horse

By Chuck Stephens / September 25, 2016

By Chuck Stephens “It is clear that the growing predominance of simple geometric forms and angular planes in the art of this period reflects the exterior shape of the mechanical world. But there is also a clear trace of the artists’ fascination with the dynamic problems of speed, change and fragmentation themselves, reflecting the new…

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Exploded View: Robert Nelson’s Bleu Shut

By Chuck Stephens / June 27, 2016

By Chuck Stephens “Could be that all those venal mother-fuckers are us…if so let’s go easy on them.” A funk-art, found-footage, intellectual brain-bait stoner comedy, epistemological jape, and audience-pleasing masterpiece of the American experimental cinema made in 1970, Robert Nelson’s Bleu Shut (30 Minutes) is exactly 30 minutes long. Hence the film’s full title, and…

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Exploded View: Tom Palazzolo’s Love It / Leave It

By Chuck Stephens / March 21, 2016

By Chuck Stephens Tom Palazzolo loves a parade. The tramping of feet, a drum’s martial beat, the waving of flags, the decorative floats, the endless processions of just plain folks—the veteran Chicago filmmaker and teacher’s films have been driven by parade and pageantry and the everyday people his camera has seen and loved for most…

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Exploded View | Death of the Gorilla 

By Chuck Stephens / December 21, 2015

  By Chuck Stephens “By cutting across so many jungles, the archetype of adventure came out crazed and beating his chest. I barely understand him.” Legendary Los Angeles filmmaker Peter Mays is talking about his gorilla. His gorilla is dead, and has been a number of times now—dead on its various arrivals. Originally signed and…

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Exploded View | Alternative Projections

By Chuck Stephens / September 25, 2015

By Chuck Stephens “In an early, 1960 survey of the then-nascent New American Cinema (NAC) movement, Jonas Mekas warned independent filmmakers of a regionally specific danger faced by artists working on the West Coast: ‘the shadow-killing and all leveling California sun.’…This early critique of Los Angeles cinema elucidates a distinctly heliophobic tendency structuring Mekas’ film…

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Exploded View | Gregory Markopoulos

By Chuck Stephens / June 23, 2015

  By Chuck Stephens One of the most extraordinary American experimental filmmakers of the 20th century, Gregory Markopoulos (1928-1992) also remains one of its most elusive. For more than a decade before his death, Markopoulos—who had emigrated to Europe in 1967, withdrawn his films from circulation, and asked that a chapter on his work be…

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Exploded View | Kenneth Anger’s Puce Moment

By Chuck Stephens / March 26, 2015

By Chuck Stephens Puce is the color of a flea, literally. “Pooce” is how Kenneth Anger sometimes pronounces the word puce, a franconym denoting the grayish-purple color that is said to have been Marie Antoinette’s favourite shade. Puce, moreover—et merci Wikipedia—“is said to be the color of the bloodstains remaining on linen or bed sheets,…

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Exploded View | The George Kuchar Reader

By Chuck Stephens / December 18, 2014

By Chuck Stephens “I make moving pictures… My dad smoked and didn’t like the movie Ben-Hur because it was lacking in simulated humping sequences. My mom liked Barbara Stanwyck and I don’t think she (Stanwyck) ever simulated humping either. My mom respected her. In the 1950s everybody was making 8mm movies. You’d develop them cheap…

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Exploded View | Michael Snow’s Wavelength

By Chuck Stephens / September 16, 2014

By Chuck Stephens. “The film is a continuous zoom which takes 45 minutes to go from its widest field to its smallest and final field. It was shot with a fixed camera from one end of an 80-foot loft, shooting the other end, a row of windows and the street. Thus, the setting and the…

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Exploded View | Standish Lawder’s Corridor

By Chuck Stephens / June 25, 2014

By Chuck Stephens “An unknown observer is seen travelling through a bleak corridor. At the end of the corridor they see a naked woman, whom they are unable to reach as their trip seems to become increasingly twisted and looped.”—IMDb “storyline” description “An extraordinary exercise in visual polyphony…the pyrotechnic surface is exfoliated with Hegelian relentlessness…

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Exploded View | Ed Emshwiller’s Thanatopsis

By Chuck Stephens / March 20, 2014

By Chuck Stephens To him who in the love of Nature holds Communion with her visible forms, she speaks A various language… —Thanatopsis, William Cullen Bryant, 1811 A buzzsaw in turbulent neon; a heartbeat and a hummingbird; a flickering flame mistaken for a cosmic streetwalker by a god/man with the clammy, impassive stare of a…

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Exploded View | The Curtis Harrington Short Film Collection

By Chuck Stephens / December 13, 2013

By Chuck Stephens Death in a wig: it’s the central (if not always literal) trope of filmmaker extraordinaire Curtis Harrington’s haunted, horrifying, and sometimes hilarious career. From the experimental shorts he made as a youth to the strictly-for-hire studio freefalls he’d take later in life, all of Harrington’s cinema is a (not always intentionally) gleeful…

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Exploded View: Will Hindle’s Saint Flournoy Lobos-Logos…

By Chuck Stephens / September 15, 2013

…and the Eastern Europe Fetus Taxing Japan Brides in West Coast Places Sucking Alabama Air By Chuck Stephens “The most memorable sequence of [Chinese] Firedrill, possibly one of the great scenes in the history of film, involves [Will] Hindle lying in anguish on his floor and slowly reaching out with one hand toward the glimmering…

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Exploded View | Hollis Frampton’s Critical Mass

By Chuck Stephens / June 26, 2013

By Chuck Stephens I Hollis Frampton is speaking: “Whatever is inevitable, however arbitrary its origins, acquires through custom something like gravitational mass, and gathers about itself a resonant nimbus of metaphoric energy.” II Anatomy of a break-up: shit flies apart. Experimental filmmaking titan Hollis Frampton’s Critical Mass—a lock-groove valentine from a young lovers’ meltdown-already-in-progress—was filmed…

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Exploded View: Ron Rice’s Chumlum

By Chuck Stephens / March 21, 2013

By Chuck Stephens “Her eye saw not just beauty but incredible, delirious, drug-like hallucinatory beauty.” Jack Smith—creature on fire, ruler of lost Atlantis, and author of the bite-sized encomium to the “perfect filmic appositeness” of Maria Montez quoted above—looms before us in a column of late afternoon loft-light, head swaddled in toilet paper, face swallowed…

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Exploded View | Bruce Conner’s Breakaway

By Chuck Stephens / December 16, 2012

By Chuck Stephens Scott MacDonald: “Have you assumed that people would look at your films on a rewind, as well as watch them projected?” Bruce Conner: “I look at them on the rewind.” The best way to watch Bruce Conner’s 1966 dance/film/masterpiece Breakaway is to look at it the way Conner would have as he…

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Exploded View | Paul Sharits by Chuck Stephens

By Chuck Stephens / September 11, 2012

“One of his best-known works, N:O:T:H:I:N:G, features a light bulb and a chair.” Paul Sharits remains the most structurally precise and disturbingly unknowable experimental filmmaker of the late 20th century, much written about and yet still wholly enigmatic, his work spare, blunt, baffling, often enraged, and always overwhelmingly beautiful. P. Adams Sitney long ago claimed…

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Exploded View | Serene Velocity / World on a Wire

By Chuck Stephens / June 24, 2012

By Chuck Stephens Start with the title, as you would a William Carlos Williams poem: Serene Velocity (1970)—tranquil and accelerating, blissful and fleet. Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating, faster and faster, in space. Now look at the screen. SUNY-Binghamton grads will recognize the place: filmmaker Ernie Gehr taught there at the end of the…

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Exploded View | Valentin de las Sierras / The Last Movie

By Chuck Stephens / April 9, 2012

By Chuck Stephens Every film Bruce Baillie makes is a folk song he’s hearing in his head. The exquisite Valentin de las Sierras, Baillie’s ten-minute 1967 masterpiece—one of a series of extraordinary films (Quixote, 1965; Castro Street, 1966; Quick Billy, 1970) he made during the ‘60s—is structured around a well-known Mexican corrido about a man…

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Apichatpong Weerasethakul

By Chuck Stephens / April 4, 2012

By Chuck Stephens Apichatpong Weerasethakul may be on a first0name basis with more people on the planet than any other Cannes-prizewinning filmmaker in history, but no matter how “average” Joe—or Joei, as he’s more recently taken to transliterating his nickname—might seem to become, he never begins to lose his heavenly glow, his beatific gleam. When…

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Exploded View

By Chuck Stephens / December 20, 2011

“This is a test. You will probably not be able to answer all of the questions.”—New Improved Institutional Quality: In the Environment of Liquids and Nasals a Parasitic Vowel Sometimes Develops, George Landow, 1976 Owen Land, aka George Landow—one of the founding, and most confounding, members of that moment dubbed by P. Adams Sitney (and…

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