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Weiner Takes All

(Clockwise from left) Tony Long, Coosje Kapteyn and Beatrice Conrad-Eybesfeld in A Second Quarter, screening as part of Anthology Film Archives' Lawrence Weiner series (Photo courtesy of Moved Pictures Archive and Lawrence Weiner)

By Miriam Bale

It's the week of the disconnect in repertory film in New York. Film Forum is showcasing Alain Resnais's 1961 film Last Year at Marienbad, the epochal representative of '60s bourgeois hysteria that splinters off into mirrored images of a divided emotional state. The film constantly circles around rigid spaces; this is true both in the playful way the plot approaches narrative cliches and also in the way the camera innovatively moves around the stiff set. Either way, it's dizzying. There's never a reconnect, and, of course, that's the point.

But Lawrence Weiner, a conceptual artist from the Bronx, made movies beginning a decade later that suavely weave in and out of familiarity and distance. Sometimes his work dwells in a white-walled prison of mental play, but -- at its most successful -- it is warm, oddly familiar, textural and rhythmic. (And sometimes a little hot, too, like a song by The Rolling Stones.) In conjunction with a retrospective of his work at the Whitney Museum, Anthology Film Archives is presenting a rare chance to see his film and video work that spans from 1970 to last year. Weiner and his wife Alice worked with Whitney and Anthology programmers to present seven programs comprising shorts, feature films and varying lengths in between.

In Broken Off, playing in a program of his early work on Saturday, each shot ends with something being broken off -- a branch, bark or the video camera itself turning off and into static. In each, a line becomes a viscerally felt jagged edge. "My whole existence is based on material," Weiner said at a recent gallery tour through the Whitney exhibit. "Material in relationship to the world and in relationship to other people." It's key that the relationship itself -- the infinite variety of familiar experiences once viewers takes responsibility to bring to the work their own personal associations -- is the focus.

Language is another place where this approach to the familiar breeds surprising infinities. Weiner is very attracted to idiomatic expressions in his art. Phrases like "water under a bridge," "hard as a rock / soft as silk" and "some of this some of that" are scattered across the walls of the Whitney galleries. "Everyone thinks they know what they mean, but they don't," Weiner said. He approaches pornography with a similar attitude. In the 1976 hard-core video A Bit of Matter and a Bit More, faces are not hidden but semi-obscured. As couples get it on, letters appear on the bottom of the screen that come close to words and names we recognize but actually mean nothing at all. Similarly, the couples' body rhythms are familiar yet distant from our own direct experience.

Weiner will be at Anthology in person on Friday to present his "fuck film" as well as three other films that are especially representative of themes in his work. Another selection worth seeing is the feature A Second Quarter (the last in an intended series of four); its gorgeous color cinematography consists of compositions so static that every movement within the frame is emphasized. The movie is the distillation of a feature film -- any feature film -- to the basics of its own rhythmic progression: a mysterious plot unfolds dramatically but is communicated solely through lists, question/answers and recitations of the alphabet.

Seduced and Abandoned is a regular feature about repertory cinema highlights in New York. Miriam Bale programs the monthly series The Movie Night Disco at Frank's Lounge in Fort Greene.

Posted at January 24, 2008 12:29 PM

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