16th annual Domino Toppling Extravaganza returns to Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC) on Sunday, October 8, at 5:30 p.m.
A Night of Mystical Psychedelic Animations by Pioneering Artists Bruce Bickford & Lawrence Jordan featuring live ambient soundtracks performed by The Empyreans!
ABOUT THE LIVE SOUNDTRACK:
The Empyreans are an improvisational ambient collective featuring rotating musicians from various locations. The concept was created by multi instrumentalist/composer Craig Douglas (Neonach, Circus Of Dead Squirrels, Obliquity). The intention was to gather like minded enthusiasts of spacious and minimal ambient music for a one time collective performance in sound and time. All performances are entirely spontaneous, meditative and in the moment. They are meant to be a gift, tossed into the universe for one time only experience.
ABOUT THE FILMS:
Tonight’s program includes a new transfer of Bruce Bickford’s short masterpiece Prometheus’ Garden (28 min, 1988). Bruce Bickford was a self-taught American artist, now widely considered a pioneer and master of clay animation, having created uniquely bizarre narratives in perpetually morphing plasticine. Although primarily known for his clay and line animation, the reclusive artist spent much of his later life creating intricate paintings, drawings, graphic novels, and sculptural objects. The artist gained a fervent cult following in the 1970s for his animations for the films of Frank Zappa. His work was featured extensively in many Zappa projects, including Baby Snakes (1979), The Dub Room Special (1982), and The Amazing Mr. Bickford (1987). He was also the subject of an award-winning feature length documentary by Brett Ingram, Monster Road (2004). More recently, some of Bickford’s last works, as well as a sequence of never before seen animation from the 70s, appeared in Alex Winter’s documentary feature Zappa (2020).
Lawrence Jordan’s masterpiece Sophie’s Place (1986, 80 mins), subtitled An Alchemical Autobiography: Transformation and Again Transformation, presents the complexities of the filmmaker’s life story as a truth patently made-up, enacted in a theater of transformations. It conjures the magical truth of an unforeseen poetic engagement with the process of cutout animation.
A culmination of five years’ work. Full hand-painted cut-out animation. Totally unplanned, unrehearsed development of scenes under the camera, yet with more “continuity” than any of my previous animations, while meditating on some phase of my life. I call it an “alchemical autobiography.” The film begins in a paradisiacal garden. It then proceeds to the interior of the Mosque of St. Sophia. More and more the film develops into episodes centering around one form or another of Sophia, an early Greek and Gnostic embodiment of spiritual wisdom. She is seen emanating light waves and symbolic objects. (But I must emphasize that I do not know the exact significance of any of the symbols in the film any more than I know the meaning of my dreams, nor do I know the meaning of the episodes. I hope that they – the symbols and the episodes – set off poetic associations in the viewer. I mean them to be entirely open to the viewer’s own interpretation).
Fully hand-painted cut-out animation and the culmination of five years’ work. Totally unplanned, unrehearsed development of scenes under the camera this “alchemical autobiography” meditates on a few phase of the life of the filmmaker. The film begins in a paradisiacal garden and then proceeds to the interior of the Mosque of St. Sophia. More and more, SOPHIE’S PLACE develops into episodes centering around one form or another of Sophia, an early Greek and Gnostic embodiment of spiritual wisdom. She is seen emanating light waves and symbolic objects.
(The filmmaker emphasizes that he does not know the exact significance of any of the symbols in the film any more than he knows the meaning of his dreams nor does he know the meanings of any of the episodes. He hopes that the symbols and the episodes set-off poetic associations in the viewer. He intends them to be entirely open to the interpretations of the viewers.)
In terms of the painstaking work that goes into any Lawrence Jordan animation, this first feature-length work is an epic, the fruits of some seven years’ labor. Eloquent, mysterious, Sophie’s Place is also “unplanned,” in the sense that its scenes and sequences are the result of spontaneous poetic symbolic associations edited in-camera. Jordan has called the film an “alchemical autobiography,” centering around a variety of forms of Sophia, the Greek and Gnostic embodiment of spiritual wisdom, and the mosque of Saint Sophia in Constantinople. Fred Camper writes in The Chicago Reader, “(Jordan’s) great theme is the celebration of the power of the human imagination; his films are full of enchanted spaces, film worlds set apart from the banality of daily living–privileged arenas in which the imagination can run free…(In Sophie’s Place) static engravings of Saint Sophia, of castles, of trees and flowers, serve as settings for a spectacular variety of foreground objects that dance across the frame. Objects and figures change shape, transforming themselves via rapid montage. A huge eye and eyebrow rotate on a larger bald head. Photographs of human and animal figures cavort about with a jagged rhythm. It is a commonplace of film history that, almost from its invention, cinema has tended to portray either magic or reality…Jordan has acknowledged both trends in Sophie’s Place. His jaggedly moving figures are hand-colored animations based on Muybridge’s photographs. But his film’s magic is not merely historical reference…(It) evokes a past so idealized and so utterly other than the life we know that it suggests a simultaneous nostalgia for the past and awareness that the past cannot be recaptured.”
“You know, Harry Smith and Kenneth Anger were both practicing magicians, but I’m not a practicing magician. I’m a practicing alchemist. . . . I don’t think the practicing alchemists ever had a codified system. Every one of them were off on their own kick. They had imagery that was like a common language and I use that language. . . . Alchemy and constructionism are two ways of saying that you take the things laying around you as detritus, as litter, and you make something that is formal art out of it. . . . I’ve been manipulating old imagery with new technology as part of my alchemy.” -Lawrence Jordan Interview with Art Forum