Sunday, August 28, 2011

Oddball Films: Ecstatic Bodies

At Oddball Films on Saturday night, guest curator Hannah Airriess introduced her genre-mixing program, which she succinctly summarized as being about how the camera reinvents the human body. In hallucinagenic excerpts from Busby Berkeley musicals, hundreds of dancers become oscillating sculptures & kinetic spectacles. It made me wonder if flash mobs are a modern equivalent.

Study in Choreography for Camera (1945) is a brief, unconvincing avant-garde film which shows a male ballet dancer in a variety of unconnected settings. The athletic fitness of Swedish high school girls is an explicit expression of the wholesomeness of a nation in the 1950s documentary The Sofia Girls. The imagery disturbingly recalls Leni Reifenstahl's Olympia, an excerpt of which was also in the program. In its masterful diving sequence, divers are transformed into flying bodies.

Charlie Chaplin turns roller skating into ballet in The Rink. Unfortunately the version we saw had no music, which drained a lot of life out of the film, but Chaplin still made the audience laugh. The 1970s educational film Gymnastics Flashbacks is a history of gymnastics as a spectator sport. It mixes modern Olympic routines with archival footage going back to 1912 & features the human body at extremes of performance.

The show ended with Parade, Parade (1973), a cinéma vérité look at a suburban Fourth of July parade. It's a snapshot of the nation, including American Indians in full regalia, acrobatic motorcyclists & Sesame Street characters.

Oddball FilmsThe show started almost a half-hour late, as people continued to trickle in. It's close quarters here, & late arrivals resorted to climbing over chairs to get to empty seats. Though intending to take Muni, I ended up taking a cab to Oddball Films. The 22-Fillmore was unusable the whole day, the buses being dispatched in groups of three at 45 minute intervals.

§ Ecstatic Bodies: Human Form on Film
Curated by Hannah Airriess
Oddball Films
Saturday, August 27th, 2011 at 8:00pm.

Musical Sequence "I Only Have Eyes for You" from Dames (1934), Busby Berkeley
Study in Choreography for Camera (1945), Maya Deren
The Sofia Girls: Rhythmic Gymnastics in Sweden (1950s)
The Rink (1916), Charlie Chaplin
Diving Sequences from Olympia (1936), Leni Reifenstahl
Gymnastics Flashbacks (1970s)
Calling All Girls (1942), Busby Berkeley
Parade, Parade (1973)


Civic Center said...

Any chance to watch the diving sequence in "Olympia" is always welcome. In fact, any chance to watch that five-hour documentary on a big screen is always welcome, one of my Top Ten Films in Movie History. The unexpurgated opening to Part Two, starting with the shadows of runners in nature, continuing with the naked menses showering and saunaing and then diving into a pristine lake, well, let's just say it was outrageously compelling viewing when I saw it as a teenager at SFMOMA in 1970. Still haven't quite gotten over the poetic shock of it.

My question is, how big is the sound and the screen at OddBall Films, because "Olympia" (and Busby Berkeley, for that matter) need to be seen on a big screen like the Castro.

And the less said about the 22-Fillmore the better.

Axel Feldheim said...

Leni Riefenstahl was a great artist & a dangerous one. I have not seen all 5 hours of Olympia, but I have seen that amazing evolution of running sequence. I feel that when sound came in, movies lost that style of visual rhetoric, to their detriment.

Oddball is definitely a funky place. It doesn't even have a real theater. The screen is small & set up on the wall in the corner of darkened room. There were about 30 people for this show, which is pretty much the capacity of the space.

The films shown come from Oddball's archive, so they are old & often worn. Think grade school movie days & expect the sound of clattering projectors & films that break. The programs are designed to create new contexts for the archive's collection of rare & ephemeral -- but not necessarily artistic -- films. Musicals or films like Olympia are not going to look & sound their best here, but that's not the point.