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Off the Cineplex Path

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The Films of Standish Lawder

The indisputable heavyweight highlight of this past week's local film selections was the Tri-Lakes Center for the Art's presentation of five films by 1970s' underground filmmaker Standish Lawder. The director of The Denver Darkroom, Lawder himself came down from the Mile-High City to give a short talk before each of the short, experimental pieces.

Runaway, the first film, was made from a found strip of early black-and-white cartoon footage in which seven dogs run across a field, stop, perk up their ears, then run back in the other direction. Using a coffee can with a lightbulb inside, the shaft of a flashlight, and another camera that he hacked apart, Lawder created his own makeshift film printer and made many copies of that one strip. He then took all those strips and created a loop. The result was a six-minute film of cartoon dogs running back and forth, and back and forth, and ... back and forth to bubbly, frenetic carnival music. Though the "action" never changes, Lawder began adding in strips of film in negative, strips cut with pinking shears, and strips run backwards so that the texture of the film itself becomes the subject.

Further examining the medium of film itself, Color Film is a work Lawder made while trying to make a minimalist, "pure color" film. Using spliced-together strips of colored film leader in white, yellow, blue, red, green, etc., Lawder ran the film through a projector and found the results to be quite boring. While he was running the film, though, he noticed how beautiful the colored strips of film looked as they ran through the projector. So, he turned a camera on the projector and filmed the colored film gorgeously winding its way through the projector's machinery.

In Cat Film, you see nothing but a shadowy gray for about three minutes until the gray begins to smear and you realize that you're looking up through cream-covered glass where two cats are eagerly revealing themselves lick by lick.

In Specific Gravity, Lawder again turns the camera onto the projector. This time he places the projector out in a snowstorm, filming it as it's slowly covered. On the right-hand side of the film, an arrow moves along a graph that shows the "Beginning," "Middle" and "End" of the film (playing cheekily upon the Aristotlean model of drama!).

The last film, Necrology, was a film of head-on shots of anybodies riding the escalator at Grand Central Station, which was then reversed. The result is a nameless litany of people disappearing upwards into shadow. The weightiness of the film is brilliantly offset by a fake "Cast of Characters (In Order of Appearance)" at the end, where Lawder suggests identities for the anonymous everyfolk like "Man Whose Wife Doesn't Understand Him," "Embezzler at Large," "Glue Sniffer" and "Woman, Menstruating."

What made these films so refreshing was their non-narrative, purely visual approach to film as a moving canvas, and their refusal to take themselves too seriously.

If you missed it, Lawder has promised to make another trip to Tri-Lakes in a month or two. We'll keep you posted.

Ghost World

Recently released on video: Ghost World -- yet another great movie that didn't make it to Colorado Springs. Based on the adult comic book by Daniel Clowes, Ghost World joins Enid (Thora Birch) and Becky (Scarlett Johansson) just as the bosom buddies throw off their graduation caps and give the finger to high school. While the deadpan and pragmatic Becky quickly grabs the reigns of the all-too-mundane realities of graduation aftermath, the get-a-job-and-find-an-apartment formula for freedom proves to be too real for Enid. So Enid gloms onto Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a 78-rpm record dork and tries to play his matchmaker, all the while falling in love with him at a sisterly distance. Unable to move forward, Enid wallows in the ghost world between adulthood and her far more alluring but precociously disillusioned art dreams. Directed by Terry Zwigoff (Crumb), this film captures all the crisp stylization and emotional limbo of Daniel Clowes' comic book.

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