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9 Seeingisbelieving 9 • Seeing is believing John Fles* Epistemological slogans “Calculated confusion of the senses.” Rimbaud “Upsetting the equilibrium.” Gurdjieff Strategy “The task I’m trying to achieve is above all to make you see.” D.W. Griffith F irst, the almost purely physical aspect of film, i.e. the optics of images seen on the screen. Moving emotionally with film, say [The Cabinet of Dr.] Caligari, 1919. The impulse was quickly disordered: the theatricality of Caligari and the painterly perspective of Pabst, Lang, and Murnau’s early work led, as Kracauer has said, from Caligari to Hitlerian Cinema (notwithstanding these directors’ personal aversion to the Reich). With the Russians, and especially with Eisenstein, came the full intellectual flowering of cinema implied in Griffith ’s pioneer work; and in particular in the process which Eisenstein called “organic editing” or montage. It was in Paris, tho, that the essential dichotomy of film history began: into photoplay (or the later novelist-journalistic forms of postwar European film-making) and, in Brakhage’s words, “film based primarily on vision”. From the ferment of surrealism and dada, in the late ’20s and early ’30s, two films, Cocteau’s Blood of A Poet and the Buñuel/Dalí Un chien Andalou, were the first to unequivocally manifest soul-content, i.e. to take the surrealist’s voyage thru the inner self and put it on the screen. 53 * John Fles was the most important curator and theorist of underground cinema in Los Angeles in the mid 1960s. After screening films from the New York underground at the Unicorn coffeehouse on the Sunset Strip for several years, on Columbus Day 1963, he began midnight screenings at the Cinema Theater at 1122 North Western Avenue, then managed by Mike Getz. Though Fles himself left for New York in 1965 (choosing henceforth to be known as Michael Fles), Getz continued the midnight screenings until the early 1970s. This is a transcription of a pamphlet Fles wrote and self-published in 1964, priced at fifty cents. Its cover was a specially commissioned drawing by George Herms, with another drawing by Naomi Levine as a frontispiece. So, we have physical discovery, emotional discovery, intellectual discovery, soul discovery. This is film history crammed into a tight schema. Pound makes these distinctions re: poetry in his basic ABC of Reading: innovators, Masters, diluters. I take it that film, visual poetry, displays similar epochs and individuals. The Masters who appear during the first soul-period, e.g. Cocteau, Buñuel, Vigo, Dreyer (Passion of Joan of Arc, Paris, 1928) blur into the dilutors of that aesthetic of the early ’50s in the U.S.A.: Maya Deren, James Broughton, Kenneth Anger, Curtis Harrington, Sydney Peterson, i.e. The Big Five. Cinema 16 Team took over the classic European faggot sensibility, the sleight-of-hand inherent in the surreal, and applied it successfully to America. But even by that time, say 1956, a new generation of innovators had appeared whose interest was primarily, again, with the physical, i.e. technique. They represented a new era of physical birth in film. (Most interesting “sport” of the period of the dilutors – which began roughly with Deren’s work in the early ’40s: Citizen Kane. Harking back to the aesthetic-emotionalism of German Film, Welles’s technical advances, for, e.g. new processes of sound montage which he brought with him from radio, took place just a few years after Lang’s initial attempts in the same area. Expressionism led, in Germany, to M. and The Last Will of Dr. Mabuse, in America to the harder edged container of Kane.) In the ear of the new innovators, as in the ear of the dilutors, the Masters whisper. They grow now to bud later. The Film Masters of our time will discover soul-continents of film; they will portray, and have already portrayed, soul-states without equivocation, without, that is, the craven reference to the literary and painterly models which square the academic critics into whining dogs leaping at one another’s balls. Two films, Gregory Markopoulos’s Twice A Man and Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures, should be especially looked at. In the former, an entirely new sightsound montage technique has been discovered, but a Grecian mythos informs it – the symbols, thereby are not absolutely pertinent to our time (G.M. tried here to follow in Cocteau’s large footsteps); Flaming Creatures, on the other hand, presents poetry, i.e. vision, his own flow of mind, erotic...


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