Sunday, September 20, 2009

José Antonio Sistiaga / Savage Republic / SF Cinématheque

Sunday 20 Septembre 2009. Victoria Theatre. San Francisco Cinématheque presented a rare screening of José Antonio Sistiaga's Ere Erera Baleibu Icik Subua Aruaren (1970). (The whimsical title does not have any literal meaning.) This 75-minute, entirely hand-painted, silent, abstract film is rarely screened anywhere. The 35mm print, along with a 7 minute short also by Sistiaga, was flown from Paris for this screening. Sistiaga painted on both sides of the film, to give it an extra-dimensional effect, according to Cinématheque Executive Director Jonathan Marlow.

As the film begins, it looks like you are driving through a heavy rainstorm of paint droplets. No image holds longer than a single frame throughout the whole film. Mesmerizingly, the film continues, treating us to dynamic visuals reminiscent of rippling water, veined leaves, bubbles, splotches of blood, or burrowing through rock and stone.

What is clearly magical is the way the brain makes the images appear to move. In fact, each frame of film is very small and while projected large, is still a separate image. The appearance of movement is manufactured effortlessly by our own perception.

Savage Republic provided a confident, highly appropriate musical accompaniment. Guitarist / percussionist / vocalist Ethan Port told me the music was in fact instrumental songs of the band's, strung together and extended for the performance. So while not precisely new music composed specifically for the film, it was a perfect fit, loud, psychedelic, dreamy, and hypnotic, a few "eastern" scales, and lots of jam band stylings. One section of the show was an erstwhile concerto for oil drum; that oil drum was the loudest thing there!