John Porter’s CineScenes: Documentary Portraits of Film Scenes, Toronto and Beyond, 1978 – 2015, edited by Clint Enns (Toronto: the8fest, 2015).
Introduction by Clint Enns
Acknowledgements by John Porter
Documenting Devotion: A Brief History of North American CineScenes by Scott MacDonald
L’homme de lumière / Man of Light by Nicole Gingras (translated by Jeffery Moore)
These Events Happened Here Once: An Interview with John Porter by Tess Takahashi
Portraits of a Homespun Cinema: John Porter’s Archival Record of Toronto’s Experimental Film Community by Dot Tuer
John Porter’s 35mm Photography
John Porter’s Digital Photography
Introduction by Clint Enns
John Porter and I first met in 2010 at the Winnipeg Cinematheque, where he showed up to a screening of his work dressed as a super 8 sheriff, complete with kid’s cowboy hat, plastic badge, one of his many super 8 shirts, and two toy cap guns in holsters. We all thought he was a madman given that we didn’t know he was wearing this costume for Shootout with Rebecca (1983), a film/live performance in which John duels it out with his on-screen nemesis. The films I saw that night were entirely unique and demonstrated a mastery over medium, space, and time while still maintaining a childlike sense of play and curiosity. Since moving to Toronto in 2011, I have had the opportunity to see many of John’s other films and we have developed a lasting friendship out of our love of moving image culture.
There are many affinities between John’s films and his docu- mentary photo portraits. In fact, many of John’s films reflectthe main purpose of his photography, namely, to document an event or performance. For instance, many of h i s Condensed Rituals can be seen as documentations of ephemeral events, like his 1976 film Santa Claus Parade or his 1978/1979 documentation of the rides at the Canadian National Exhibition in Amusement Park. His Camera Dances, such as Shovelling Snow (1992) and Light Sleeper (2010/2011), can be seen as documentations of his performances involving, you guessed it, shovelling snow (one of John’s favourite activities) and sleeping (another one of John’s favouriteactivities). The composition and subject matter of his films and photographs are often chosen to provide historical insight into the events depicted, that is, to include informa- tion about the location and time in which they were shot. Furthermore, John’s dedication to the act of documentation and his use of extra-diegetic text (in the form of written captions for his photographs and oral descriptions for his film presentations) transform the films and photographs from mere documentation into significant works of historical importance.
The photos in this book were selected for their documentary value, with attention paid in each case to the aesthetic quality of the photo, the historical importance of the event, the filmmakers present, and the technologies on display. It is worth stating that John and I did not make a conscious effort to exclude any filmmakers; however, in view of the limited space of this book, I am positive that many great filmmakers (local and otherwise) will have been left out. In fact, John
has over 1,000 subjects in his collection, and this book only contains a portion of them. Given that both John and I are anti-hierarchical, it is not the intention of this book to develop or promote a canon, but we would be ecstatic if this project brought some attention to any of the filmmakers documented. Following the philosophy of Helen Hill we believe that a filmmaker is anyone who makes a film, hence emerging filmmakers are presented here alongside established filmmakers. With that said, the subjects presented in this book inevitably reflect John’s personal and political interests, which include his devotion towards super 8, bicycles, and DIY/alternative modes of filmmaking, in addition to his support of community building and his opposition to censorship.
John and I would like to acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and of the8fest (in particular, Milada Kovacova, Andrew James Paterson, and Scott Miller Berry), which made this project possible. We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to our copy editors Cameron Moneo and Andrew James Paterson, and to our designer Leslie Supnet. Finally, we would like to thank all of the writers who contributed thoughtful essays and interviews to this book, namely, Scott MacDonald, Nicole Gingras (and Jeffrey Moore), Tess Takahashi, and Dot Tuer.
Book Review: John Porter’s CineScenes
Mike Hoolboom, “Book Review: John Porter’s CineScenes,” POV Magazine (January 15, 2016).
I’ve recently rejoined the board of the experimental media collective Pleasure Dome after a 30 year gap, and I’m grateful to find the fringe film scene filled with young people who seem interested in difficult movies for mysterious reasons. One of the odd things I’ve noticed is that whenever they say the word “film,” their faces get soft like Jello, their eyes glaze and even in spite of themselves their chin leads them towards a forgotten star on a lost horizon. Film. The response, which signals a nostalgia for a time they were too young to experience, is distinctly sexual, and it’s made me to start paying attention to what happens in the body when a super 8 or a 16mm emulsion is being received, or on the other hand when a digital file is being bounced off a screen and into our pores.
I believe that this is one of the secret projects of the book called John Porter’s CineScenes: Documentary Portraits of Alternative Film Scenes Toronto and Beyond 1978-2015, which is divided in two: the captioned analog black and white part, where faces and names can sing together, and the colour digital photography aftermath section, where the act of naming is deferred or displaced. All the photos are preceded by glowing essays about John Porter, a photographer and filmmaker, who has documented the fringe film scene in Toronto for 40 years.
One of the secrets that no one has to say out loud about fringe movies is that most of the time they are made by one person. Fringe films feature an extreme version of the auteur theory. When I flip through the pages of this handsome new book, I can’t help noticing that the faces responsible for making difficult films have also been heretical enough to create videos and other apostasies. There is an insistence in this page after page collection, that the bodies of these artists are engaged and reimagined by the machines that they use and which defines them.
Every portrait by John Porter is also a self portrait. It’s as if the photographer/filmmaker could only make a picture of his face by showing us the faces that are looking back at him. This is what every face in the book has in common: they are all looking at the photographer. They can’t seem to turn their faces away, as if they had arrived at the scene of an accident, unable to keep themselves from the catastrophe. The catastrophe of identity.
The photographer is not interested in the flow of life, the candid encounter, the summary gesture snipped out of the sequence. Instead, John Porter approaches his subjects like a fan. He begins by getting underneath them with his soft-spoken words and small camera, an optical instrument which he hopes will let them show what they are unable to admit, even to themselves. Before the picture is made, each person has a moment to compose their face as if they were already a picture, though as usual the camera is merciless in exposing the invisible worlds we all thought had been tucked away and tidied.
Here is a picture of Vincent Grenier, moments before a screening of his short formal films at the Funnel, a name attached both to an experimental film collective and their home made 100 seat movie theatre. One of Vincent’s movies is 20 minutes long filmed from an unmoving camera that shows the filmmaker leafing through a book, an atlas actually. It’s mostly abstract and silent and as I put my body into his body, I can feel his slumping anxiety at the prospect of sharing the longest 20 minutes in cinema history.
At the Funnel, where John Porter plied his craft as a photographer while exhibiting a visual onslaught of Super 8 films in the 1970s and ‘80s, it was obvious that words had refused certain members, but pictures offered a second chance to express some of those uncaptioned emotions. In general, there wasn’t a lot of talking in the movies shown at the Funnel: there wasn’t a rule about it or anything, but the theatre was a place for looking most of all. If you had to use words, the unspoken feeling was that you weren’t quite a filmmaker. Real artists could shoot a face with so much light in it you wouldn’t need the words.
Here is Peter Gidal. He was an American who had gone to England to spread his version of cine-puritanism. Faces and bodies shouldn’t be shown on film, he argued. The cinema’s identification with bodies was only the rebooting of fascism, according to this prolific structural-materialist manifesto writer. I love the way John shoots him here, up against a wall, the last man sitting, his legs folded as if he were turning away from the whole project of picture making.
Here is a snapshot of filmmaker Midi Onodera, the Funnel’s second equipment manager. I think she was the first person to show me what a computer was, and what it could do, at a time, when it was basically a typewriter without the need for correction strips. In this picture, she offers her face in a smile, but not the kind that follows the telling of a particularly excellent joke. I remember her deep, baritone-inflected laughter cutting through the sometimes awkward scrums in the Funnel’s lobby/gallery/beer parlour. But here her face suggests something more complicated than laughter. Perhaps it’s only my projection, but I think her face shows some of the tensions of an organisation that always seemed busy sawing off its own branches.
Here is a photo of the legendary American performance artist and filmmaker Carolee Schneemann at the Funnel, where she is setting up for her epic home movie Kitch’s Last Meal. Carolee was tight with her cats, and made a pact that she would shoot until her fave cat familiar Kitch keeled over and died. But Kitch lived on and on and the movie ballooned. Not only did her film run anywhere from two to five hours long, it required two super 8 projectors running at the same time. Carolee’s excellent movies were casual deliriums that turned everyday encounters into beautifully rendered arenas of seeing and discovery. So it’s interesting to see this portrait where her face is set slightly back from where it would rest naturally, as if she were literally taken aback, and you can see the strain of her holding her face like this in her neck and clavicle. How did all that let-it-all-hang-out looseness come from that tight face? The words I want to put in her mouth are saying: “what the fuck are you doing with that little thing in your hand, buddy? Get your little thing out of my face.”
A final picture, a final recollection. Oh look, it’s P. Adams Sitney, author of Visionary Film, the bible of avant-garde cinema. He’s come north to show Hollis Frampton’s Nostalgia and Owen Land’s Remedial Reading Comprehension, and then to talk about them, to offer suggestions about what these movies might possibly mean. He wasn’t the only person ever to arrive at the Funnel in a suit; the gentleman who gazes so lovingly at him from just a few feet away, Bruce Elder, was one of the organisation’s original members and usually came in a jacket and tie. There are two people in this photo who are presenting for the camera. The first is Mr. Sitney who has winningly exhaled his cigarette at the decisive moment in order to keep the most important part of his face for himself, and the other is Funnel founder Ross McLaren who lifts his chin in his best Sid Vicious impression. But then there’s Anna Gronau, the director of the Funnel at the time. In this pic, she is in the shadows, with her eyes closed, the only woman in the boy’s club, all of them stuck in a corner, cornered again by each other. Anna’s hands are clenched and tight, knitting and unknitting stories like Penelope before the suitors, waiting for her day to come.
There have been rumours about a John Porter photo book for nearly as long as he has been making pictures. Kudos to editor/producer Clint Enns for making this project happen since part of the strength of John’s pictures comes from the fact that they were never made so they could be seen in a book. His photos are part of an ongoing process, the continual appearing and disappearing, opening and closing of bodies in a community.
Book Review: John Porter’s CineScenes
Owen O’Toole, “John Porter’s CineScenes,” Mr. Super8Man (January 30, 2016).
If every country had a national super8 filmmaker, Canada’s would be John Porter. His body of work consists of hundreds of small film reels, each one a particular theme or idea. The first film of his I saw, Calendar Girl, a remake of the Neil Sedaka Scopitone film (an early form of music video), was being celebrated by Matthias Mueller as a subversive found footage film. The original film is subject to editorial emulsion scratching which highlights the not-so subliminal lechery in the singer’s admiration for his girls. I know I’ve seen more Porter super8s, either in Toronto or Vancouver, or maybe San Francisco, where he visited just after I moved there in 93 and had a show on October 14, which I probably attended. His Shootout with Rebecca, performed that night, is unforgettable as an example of interactive/. film, with John dressing as a cowboy with pistols and shooting at the screen, where Rebecca dodges his shots. Firefly and Santa Claus Parade also ring bells, but I don’t recall them specifically. It’s hard to believe that 1993 is now 23 years past. I may have met John again when Wet Gate played in Toronto in 2006.
The real cause for current excitement is publication, by the8fest, a Toronto 8mm festival, of a monograph of photographs by Porter, his CineScenes, which document the film-going life of Toronto while the projector is off. Many of Toronto’s film artists, great and small, are here to be seen in their natural surroundings across the past 30 years, from The Funnel, through Pleasure Dome and many other community cinema efforts in Canada. The photo above is an example, though not included in the book, of John’s completist mission; he didn’t miss me and my collaborators when I came though town. (There are 3 John Porter Filmers Almanac shots.)
The book is beautifully printed on photo quality paper. A lengthy essay by academe-historian Scott MacDonald places John’s work within the sphere of “microcinema”, that increasingly popular synonym for small theater, which has been expanded (expanded cinema?) to include any small-scale film activity. In 1994, when Rebecca Barten called me to ask for help naming totalmobilehome, and I replied, “Well, it’s a microcinema”, I was thinking of their basement theater on McCoppin St., freshly cleaned and painted. She later asked me for the word as a wedding present. I never get any credit for this little fact.
John Porter’s book of photos definitely fits into the history of the microcinema, a history with great activity in Ontario. Being a super8 filmmaker, my world intersects with John’s, and I was quite excited to get the book, even after reading the captions contents online and learning I was not included. (John photographed me in a group at the Filmers Almanac Pleasure Dome screening in July 1990, seen above.) I knew the book would be a Who’s Who of North American film and would be a piece of super8 world history. Here are some of my stories from people in the book:
Page 38 – One of John’s stranger pictures, and subjects, is tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE, from Baltimore but now in Pittsburgh. tENT is bottomless and wearing a 6-breasted chest t-shirt and 13 or so historically cut moustaches, and he must be dancing as his feet are poised, floating just above the floor. His show involved film, video and sound performance with an element of transgressive/body art thrown in. You never know what tENT is going to do next. He encouraged and participated in the Filmers Almanac as a mail art project, exchanged many audio tapes with me for radio play, and I later helped publish two LPs of his music.
Page 53 – Jurgen Bruning, Penelope Buitenhuis, Michael Brynntrup, Michael Krause.
Jurgen was director of Hallwalls in Buffalo, when I came through en route from the big Almanac tour of Europe in Fall/Winter 1989. The Berlin Wall had opened in November. A huge blizzard hit Buffalo that night, but that didn’t stop Jurgen from organizing a dinner for me with Paul Sharits and Tony Conrad, which was very fun and stimulating, I forever owe Jurgen for that evening. The next morning, Mike Hoolboom arrived on the bus from Toronto, which had been delayed by the storm, and we walked through some old Buffalo cemetary in the snow, perhaps the one where Hollis Frampton was buried. Mike explained that Germany would move fast towards reunification, while the German girl with us and myself opined that it would take some time. Mike knew better than we did.
Page 54 – Michael Brynntrup. Michael was MR.SUPER8 in 1986, when he made Jesus, the Film and toured extensively. He is friends with the whole super8 community in Germany, including Matthias Mueller and Caspar Stracke, and sent an Almanac reel, outtakes from his Louis IV costume drama.
Page 56 – JD’s Film Night at Buddies. GB Jones and Bruce LaBruce were both roommates with Jonathan Pollard, who I first met in Germany when he was visiting with a selection of Experimental Films from Canada. Jonathan hosted my visit to Toronto, when the Filmers Almanac played the Purple Institution in July of 1990. Bruce made a film called Super 8 1/2, which got some notoriety.
Page 57 – Location previously called The Purple Institution. A year before, in 1990, Pleasure Dome invited me and the Filmers Almanac for what may have been the finest Almanac show. Beautiful Summer evening, immersed audience, everything worked. Atom Egoyan attended, said Hello, and named his next film Calendar. An audience member ran home and got his film to show; it evolved into an open screening! And Myke Dyer showed up with catering from a film set to feed everyone. Remarkable.
Page 59 – Al Razutis. Prolific West Coast filmmaker lived in Vancouver, then moved to the islands. Sold many of his film prints; I bought Bridge at Electric Storm. Now posting wildly on faceBook.
Page 60 – Alex Mackenzie. Two pics of Alex Mackenzie, one at The Blinding Light hand processing film and using the hand-cranked projector he developed for performance. Alex ran both the Edison Electric and The Blinding Light! galleries during the nineties and early 2000s, giving Vancouver a richer cultural life. And he’s a remarkably nice person!
Page 61 – Greta Snyder and Craig Baldwin. From John’s 1993 visit to San Francisco. Greta and Bill Daniel and Gibbs Chapman were all part of Craig’s inner circle at Other Cinema and parts of his production crew on Sonic Outlaws. Greta is every bit as talented a filmmaker as the guys. I mean they are almost as talented as she it.
The Orgone Cinema trio of Pittsburgh, friends of tENTATIVELY, who also visited SF while I was there. I believe Michael Johnsen has been doing pretty extreme electronic music on self-built Tudor-influenced systems. I don’t know what happened to Greg Pierce and Alicia Dix.
Page 62 – Steve Anker and Elise Hurwitz. Steve was director of the SF Cinematheque at this time, before moving on to Cal Arts, where he heads the film program. I think Elise worked at Film Arts Foundation, she and Gibbs Chapman engineered the purchase and shipment of ten Steenbeck units from the BBC to San Francisco, which they sold to local filmmakers.
Page 63 & 64 – George Kuchar receives rightful appreciation in this book. I met George but didn’t know him well. My friend Caspar Stracke made a brilliant video piece with the Kuchars and David Sherman and Rebecca Barten, where the faces were presented as screen icons in discussion with a beautiful Thierry Theimletz soundtrack.
Page 75 – Jurgen Reble of Schmelzdahin. Jurgen toured North America with Jochen Lempert of Schmelzdahin and they visited Toronto for the Congress of Experimental Film. Everywhere they went, the Schmelzdahins inspired people with their films and processes. They invited decay and decomposition into their work, burying and leaving film in the trees to be etched and eroded. They visited me in Portland, Maine and taught me basic film chemistry, though I’ve never mastered the art. The corrosive nature of film chemicals always turned me off.
Page 76 & 83 – Mike Hoolboom, the unstoppable and prolific, articulate filmmaker. Mike is a great writer. I met him through Matthias Mueller, who worked with Mike for a while. Mike knows everyone in Canadian film, and this book could have a lot more photos of Mike in it given his role in the various scenes. Also in several photos is Kika Thorne, Mike’s partner for a while; they made the beautiful film Twice, in which the same edited film strip is shown twice with different soundtracks by each artist.
Page 77 – Willem Hein, German filmmaker and married to Birgit Hein for many years, they taught the graduate film program at the Hochshule fur Bildenderkunst in Braunschweig, where many young Germans studied. I remember Willem talking to a group of young artists about touring with your work, how you must fight to be treated to a “first class hotel!”
Page 86 – In this picture find Dave Douglas, the film teacher who I met when Wet Gate played Montreal in 2006. Douglas put me up in his house, in his own bed, and gave me dvds of early Canadian independent feature films.
Page 94 – Naomi Uman in Toronto. She became famous for her film Removed, in which she erases female actresses from porno movie clips using bleach and fingernail polish remover. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEkMKdf_9Fs)
Miranda July promoted Removed by including it in one of her VHS compilation magazines. Wet Gate met Naomi when we were both visiting Cal Arts in Valencia.
Page 95 – Brian Frye was an undergraduate film student at UC Berkeley in the early 90’s. I would see him, Steve Polta and Christine Metropoulos at Pacific Film Archive screenings. Luis Recoder was also in that gang. Brian was often at events at totalmobilehome. He made the National Archives super8 collection film Our Nixon with Penny Lane. He is now a lawyer and teacher who continues to be active in film.
Page 101 – Luis Recoder. Along with Bruce McLure, Luis gets a lot of attention for projector performance, reducing film exhibition down to the essentials of a light generating machine.
Page 112 – Dagie Brundert, from Berlin, who is doing more work in the area of alternative processing solutions than perhaps anyone, deserves the title MS.SUPER8WOMAN. Dagie can be seen bouncing between international film centers, leading workshops in using eco-friendly materials like coffee and alcohol process film. A truly wonderful contribution to the world of alternate film.
Page 113 – Lisa Marr is co-director of the Echo Park Film Center, Los Angeles’s artist-run film center, although she is Canadien. Echo Park Film Center is one of the places you’d see Dagie Brundert and countless other interesting film artists.
Page 115 – Nick Dorsky, visiting Toronto from San Francisco. One of the most lauded filmmakers in recent American film, combines intense contemplation with an almost found object approach to composition. Dorsky brings spirituality back to filmmaking, with silent, 16mm films, as Brakhage once did.
Page 116 – A photo of John Porter with Jaap Pieters, Dutch national super8 filmmaker. I met Jaap in 2006, when Wet Gate played Rotterdam, and Jaap was given a room to show his films and talk with visitors. I saw a few of his films and talked with him, asked him to make me a Filmers Almanac film but never followed it up. I wrote about the Rotterdam visit elsewhere.
Book Review: John Porter’s CineScenes
Rosemary Donegan, “Book Review: John Porter’s CineScenes,” Prefix Photo 33 (Spring/Summer 2016): 91.
This is an unusual photo book, some would say an odd book. It has two discrete aspects: a photo album of John Porter’s film friends, and a collection of essays that focus on Porter’s Super 8 film work. The photographs document and provide a somewhat nostalgic record of the alternate film scene in Toronto — primarily events and activities at the Funnel and CineCycle as well as a few other locations —between 1978 and 2015.
The posed portraits of individuals and small groups are presented as self-evident documents of celebrity; as Porter declares, “To me, everyone is [a] celebrity simply because they have made a film.” Accordingly, the images are referenced with names, dates, locations and the titles of the films screened. The book includes a detailed index of those documented in the photographs (so it’s easy to look someone up), but there is no discernible chronology or logic to the images or the various locations represented. Moreover, the films that are the raison d’être for Porter’s “cinescene” are not presented or discussed in any meaningful way.
The short essays devoted to Porter’s film work are erratic. Raising some interesting questions, Nicole Gingras considers Porter’s Super 8 film work as performance, and Dot Tuer defines Porter’s cinescene as the Toronto screenings, social gatherings and events that were framed by Porter’s presence and lens. But Scott MacDonald’s essay, alarmingly uninformed about Toronto’s alternate film scene, reads as if it were written for some other publication.
Though a potential resource for film buffs and historians, it is an odd book. If you were part of the cinescene represented here, the book is an interesting document of the time and place. But if you were not part of this particular cinescene, the book’s logic or rationale beyond the fact that it is John Porter’s cinescene — is difficult to discern.
Book Review: John Porter’s CineScenes
tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE, “Book Review: John Porter’s CineScenes,” tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE (March 5, 2016).
I probably 1st met John Porter in Toronto on Wednesday, April 23, 1986 when I was in the midst of my 6 Fingers Crossed Country T.Ore/Tour at the Rivoli Club. One of the things I did that nite was lay on my upper back & do bicycle exercises w/ my naked lower body while gently nudging the screen onto wch was being projected the peep show movie entitled Balling Tim Ore is Best that I’d made collaboratively w/ Dick Hertz. B/c of Toronto’s censorship laws of the time, the Rivoli was taking the risk of being shut down by providing me the venue to do this.
In order to try to thwart the censorship authorities, the doors had been locked & my collaborator Gordon W. Zealot, who was playing a Nol, North Indian folk drum, was burning incense to produce what at least one audience member described 9 yrs later as ‘suffocatingly dense smoke’ to try to make immediate perception of what was happening difficult for any new person entering.
Since I was scheduled to present at the Funnel the next nite & since John was connected w/ that venue he somewhat worriedly asked me to not kick the screen w/ my feet in order to prevent damage. Note that he did NOT say anything about me being naked or showing my XXX porn parody – this even tho the Funnel, too, was taking a risk of being shut down by the censor authorities for presenting me.
These folks & their allies had been involved w/ anti-censorship struggles since at least 4 yrs before. I’m glad to’ve contributed my bit to freedom of expression in that era.
To any person familiar w/ underground/alternative/independent/whatever film scenes, John Porter is likely to be known as one of the numero uno champions of super-8 filmmaking. John shot a foto of me performing at the Funnel & was considerate enuf to send me a print of it. I then used it as the cover image of my A Mere Outline bk wch I then sent him a copy of in turn. This type of friendly barter exchange in support of each other’s work is part & parcel of putting emphasis on the personal – a tendency that John & I share.
We crossed paths in Toronto more than a few times after that. If there was an underground screening, John was likely to be there. He shot fotos of my “Official” Project at the Zeroworks Jubilee at 53 Wabash: the “Monastery”, a great after-hrs venue connected to a junkyard lot, in 1992 & gave me 4 fotos of that too.
On August 18, 1998, etta cetera & I presented at Martin Heath’s great Cincecycle venue. Once again, John was there to take fotos & he gave me at least 4 of them. 2 of them can be seen here. In John’s typical fashion, he captured etta & me projecting our dual filmstrip: Death Bed Aerobics. Thank you, John, for always being there & for preserving traces of what’s important to us both!!
It might not’ve been until October 2005 when I was in Toronto to screen my “Story of a Fructiferous Society” (you can read an analysis of that here) under the auspices of Pleasure Dome’s SoundPlay festival that John & I finally arranged a time when we cd get together & I cd see some of his films. The ever-accommodating Martin Heath enabled this to happen as a private screening at Cinceycle, if I remember correctly, where I also got to see Martin’s 35mm collage film.
What a treat that was!! I got to see John’s Firefly (1980) & Toy Catalog – Part 1 (1996) – both of wch I made special note of to myself to add to my “Favorite Movies by Other People” list online here.
Nicole Gringas, one the essayists in CineScenes, includes this passage re Firefly:
John improvises a performance for the camera, spinning a bright, pinpoint light on a long cord, around himself in a variety of patterns, against a black background. A one-shot film, shot in one hour, at one frame per second. And with one-second time-exposures, the light streaks are multiplied and made more complex by refracting in the lens.
WCH BRINGS US TO THIS BK, eh?! Many hundreds of filmmakers must’ve had similar positive experiences w/ John over the decades & I reckon we’re all glad to see this be released. Heck-a-Goshen! I even pd $38.77 to get a copy, glad to be able to give John something back, glad to support the bk’s publication! Delighted to be able to get a copy!
Reading thru CineScenes is like looking at a high school yrbk for a school one actually wanted to go to, a school where one actually had plenty of friends, where one wasn’t necessarily an outcast. In fact, in Tess Takahashi’s interview w/ John Porter in CineScenes, John says that he ‘got his start’ thusly:
In high school I was involved in amateur theatre and took photographs for the school yearbook. I also constructed photographic series of my friends acting out scenarios. I would then make a little book of these photos in sequence. It was very filmic.
Clint Enns, the editor, ‘s introduction starts off w/ this:
John Porter and I first met in 2010 at the Winnipeg Cinemateque, where he showed up to a screening of his work dressed as a super 8 sheriff, complete with kid’s cowboy hat, plastic badge, one of his many super 8 shirts, and two toy cap guns in holsters. We all thought he was a madman given that we didn’t know he was wearing his costume for Shootout with Rebecca (1983), a film/live performance in which John duels it out with his on-screen nemesis.
Now that “We all thought he was a madman” thing is a common trope, a negative cliché that I’ve certainly run across many times before. Why think that someone’s a “madman” b/c they’re doing something different? Why not immediately deduce that they’re a creative person instead? I think of a super-8 movie that Catherine Pancake made in wch she shot footage of artists that she’s friends w/ & of clients of hers who hear voices. Some of the artists, like Laure Drogoul, were flagrantly wacky, not afraid to be themselves. The people who hear voices, on the other hand, were clearly desperately trying to appear as normal as possible. Hearing voices was not a creative hoot for them, it was a torment. If I’d seen John so dressed I wd’ve immediately been excited & interested, hoping that he was going to live up to the novelty, that he was going to do something creative & curious about what that might be – & it seems that I wd’ve been happily rewarded.
[Enns has since informed me in a Facebook communication that “madman” is intended as a compliment.]
Enns goes on:
The photos in this book were selected for their documentary value, with attention paid in each case to the aesthetic quality of the photo, the historical importance of the event, the filmmakers present, and the technologies on display. It is worth stating that John and I did not make a conscious effort to exclude any filmmakers; however, in view of the limited space of the book, I am positive that many great filmmakers (local and otherwise) will have been left out.
Alas, yes, that’s the case: Owen O’Toole & his projection performance group “Wet Gate”, eg, are missing. Check them out here. Enns continues:
Given that both John and I are both anti-hierarchical, it is not the intention of this book to develop or promote a canon, but we would both be ecstatic if this project brought some attention to any of the filmmakers documented. Following the philosophy of Helen Hill we believe that a filmmaker is anyone who makes a film, hence emerging filmmakers are presented here alongside established filmmakers. With that said, the subjects presented in this book inevitably reflect John’s personal and political interests, which include his devotion towards super-8, bicycles, and DIY/alternative modes of filmmaking, in addition to his support of community building and his opposition to censorship.
I’m solidly behind the sentiments expressed in this last-quoted paragraph. HOWEVER, it shd be noted that the cover of the bk shows ‘Superstar Ondine’ presenting Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls to a packed house – in other words, a canon is immediately reinforced. Furthermore, George Kuchar is referenced in 3 of the introductory pages & shows in 3 photographs on a 2 pp spread. 2 of these 3 fotos are from the same event. That might be interpreted as redundant & as reinforcing a canon. Now, I love George Kuchar’s work & think that he’s deserving of the attn & that he, too, was a community builder. Still. Same goes for Barbara Hammer, she’s in there quite alot & has probably been canonized more than most.
That sd, there are many people who’re probably mostly known to Torontonians whose images appear again & again & this is b/c they were ‘omnipresent’. Martin Heath is an example – as are Dot Tuer, Kate MacKay, Chris Kennedy, & Petra Chevrier, etc, etc.. “The stand-out among them is Martin Heath, who provides a ‘mobile cinema-for-hire’ service in Toronto and operates Cine-Cycle, the world’s only underground cinema and bicycle repair shop capable of projecting 35mm, 16mm, 9.5mm, 8mm, and super-8 film.”
& I have to agree, Martin really is a “stand-out.” I’ve known him since at least 1982 when he participated in the 4th International Neoist Festival in Montréal by having an espresso maker in the back of his Mercedes truck w/ wch he provided free espresso to all comers for our outdoor events. He even had a Scopitone (but not in the back of the truck), a 16mm jukebox, wch he proposed loading w/ my 16mm films & taking on tour. I wish we’d done that!
Martin is yet-another person cut from the same socio-political mold as John insofar as they’re both very generous people who’re entirely behind the community building values of getting the means-of-production into the hands of anyone who feels the urge to create at the level of the personal rather than at the level of big business. In 1998 when etta & I projected out filmstrips at CineCycle, Martin was so delighted that anyone was working w/ filmstrips so long after their ‘obsolescence’ that he gave me a beautiful half-frame camera & a plethora of great lenses to go along w/ it. He even later helped me get it repaired. I made quite a few filmstrips w/ that including Shuffle Mode wch is online on my onesownthoughts YouTube channel. Thank you very much Martin.
In Scott MacDonald’s article he quotes Bruce Baillie talking about the founding of Canyon Cinema: “We got an army surplus screen and hung it up real nice in the backyard of this house we were renting.” That was 1960. 56 yrs later, Canyon still exists but it’s no longer in a rented house’s backyard. I find such humble beginnings quite cheering. My own backyard cinema, B.Y.O.C., is also beginning very humbly & I admit that I don’t expect it to grow up to where Canyon Cinema is at today – but it doesn’t ‘have’ to in order to be ‘valid’. Here’s the link for its nascent webpage & here’s the link for the movie of its 1st event. MacDonald continues:
This seems the very spirit of the microcinema. Indeed, when Rebecca Barton and David Sherman established their break-through microcinema Total Mobile Home in 1994-they hosted filmmakers and film screenings in their home in San Francisco, once a week from 1994 until 1997-they had Baillie’s early Canyon Cinema in mind. During Total Mobile Home’s first year Barton and Sherman organized a series of morning salons with Baillie where the connections between what they were doing and what Baillie had done were discussed.
A point of possible interest about the above being that, as I recall, Sherman worked for Canyon Cinema at the time – making the connection even closer than MacDonald suggests. Additionally, I quote from an email rc’vd from Owen O’Toole regarding the word “microcinema”: “i would just like occasional credit for the term coming out of my mouth. Rebecca tricked me when she asked for the word as a wedding present as we were crossing the street. i know it’s kind of silly. Microcinema, actually subconscious influence of Mike Film Distribution Form).” That’s awkward, eh? Barten & Sherman get credit for something that Owen O’Toole probably deserves more credit for (even I have previously given them credit), Owen’s not in John’s excellent bk.
SO, let me hereby promote Owen O’Toole. Back around 1986 or so he instigated a super-8 project called the “Filmers Almanac”. He requested that every super-8 filmmaker he cd find pick a day in 1988 to shoot a single roll of film on so that he cd then screen those films as a massive collaboration. That was one of the best community-building film projects I’ve ever seen. Owen traveled w/ the films & projected 1 & sometimes 2 of them at a time w/ one of the projectors on a “Lazy Susan” so that he cd easily pan the projection. He then improvised a soundtrack using audio cassettes provided by the contributors. It. Was. Absolutely. Wonderful. Owen gave me 2 different VHS versions of these performances. I put a short excerpt from one online that features my film in it.
But Owen’s story doesn’t stop there. He was a staunch proponent & practitioner of free-form radio – something akin in spirit to the type of cinema that Porter & O’Toole & I embrace. Track 2 is a sample collaboration that Owen & his fellow Tufts DJ Tim Clifford & I did together. He’s also the publisher of Wafer Face Records wch released some of his radio experiments as well as 2 LPs by yrs truly. Let’s NOT canonize Sherman & Barten [correct spelling] & neglect O’Toole who’s done considerably more than most as a participant in the underground culture that Porter’s bk is about.
Nicole Gringas informs us that John’s earliest film dates back to 1968! 48 yrs ago! How many filmmakers alive today can claim such longevity! In Tess Takahashi’s interview Porter elaborates: “I rented a super-8 camera from Janet Good [..] wrote a little scenario, and got my friends together with costumes and props near our street. As soon as I started shooting I realized, this is what I want to do, this is for me.” Gringas quotes Porter:
I’ve always been a performer. I was an actor before I started photography or filmmaking, but I hated memorizing lines. I’ve decided that film itself, being a theatrical medium, is a performance medium. I always considered the presentation of my films a performance. I like to be there in person to project the originals, and talk during them like live narration.
One term for a person who gives live narration during a screening is “explicator”. I like this term, I sometimes act as an Explicator. As I understand it, in the early days of motion pictures an Explicator was sometimes felt to be needed to explain what was going on to audiences not yet accustomed to the ‘language’ of movies. A part of the fun of personal or micro- cinema is having the option of having the filmmaker there in person to tell relevant anecdotes that make the experience deeper. I use the concept of the Explicator as part of the soundtrack for one version of my only super-8 feature: Satanic Liposuction, Neoasm?!, & YOU!!
Porter made a film called Amusement Park (1978-1979) in wch “each frame was exposed for two minutes and the shooting extended over eight hours.” That sounds as amazing as Firefly. There’s a whole tradition of small-gauge films shot in colorfully lit entertainment spots. It wd be interesting to see a whole festival dedicated to the subject. I made a movie called Bemusement Park.
Porter mentions being inspired by “a projection by Anne B. Walters” in his Camera Dances. He’s got me interested but I don’t think I found the right person online. It makes me think of a performance that I saw at UMBC, probably around 1979, done by a dancer/filmmaker duo in wch the dancer danced w/ a filming 16mm camera that was aimed at the audience & environs while a previously shot 16mm film done under similar circumstances was projected. It was great! I wish I cd remember the couple’s name!
Porter tells Takahashi about what followed his teen film:
I didn’t make any more films until I got to Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, where I went to study still photography. I was there for five years even though it was only a three-year program, because I kept failing. I wasn’t interested in the academics, the tests, and the exams. I just wanted to make films.
A history of filmmakers & other creative people who either failed schooling or never went thru it in the 1st place wd be a fascinating one for me. It wd include John Waters & Werner Herzog, pretty good company to be in. They’ve both sd very similar things to Porter about ‘just wanting to make films’.
Porter stopped shooting 35mm stills once he switched to using his cellphone. He also started shooting videos w/ it & posting them to YouTube. I’ve long since done the same thing. The original value of shooting super-8 was its cheapness relative to 16mm. Alas, tho, super-8 has ceased to be a particularly cheap or easy medium. The film is hard to get & hard to get processed. It’s no longer cheap. Realistically, VHS replaced super-8 as the cheapest medium 35 yrs ago. One cd easily buy a tape that cd record for 120 minutes at Standard Play for $2. To make a movie that long on super-8 might cost thousands unless you have bulk stock & process it yrself.
To film purists, tho, there’s no comparison, the projected look of film is considered by such folks to be superior. Personally, I’ve never ultimately agreed. For one thing, it’s cheap & easy to make VHS copies & to send them out to friends. I’ve made some of my finest movies in VHS. Even w/ VHS vanishing, it’s still possible to buy the tapes for $2 apiece (or less in Thrift stores) & VHS decks for $10 or so in thrift stores. The problem at this point is getting a VHS camcorder. I’m sure it’s still possible.
Anyway, these days, people are addicted to high-definition. Whatever. I use my cellphone too AND a GoPro but I don’t think everything that’s made in 1080p30 is good just b/c it’s HD. A stupid static 16/9 landscape shot in HD is still a stupid static landscape shot even if there’s alotof detail. Switching to shooting w/ a cellphone limits all sorts of possibilities & posting to YouTube means having yr movie stuck next to ads that yr movie is the lure for. Still, it’s the most practical thing going these days for quickly reaching a broad international (v)audience.
I make a movie at home in Pittsburgh & know that somebody in Belarus will check it out toute de suite. That wasn’t even as easy w/ VHS. I use Vimeo for shorter movies but am too poor to pay for the ability to post longer ones. Some things I upload to the Internet Archive. How long any of this is going to last is open to question. I make movies for personal contact but I also make them for posterity. I don’t consider what I do to be throwaway regardless of whether it’s no or low budget. By the way, low budget means under $100 NOT under $1,000,000!
Dot Tuer writes:
Vernacular in conception and matter-of-fact in realization, Porter’s documentary photographs constitute a testimonial to his unwavering faith in a homespun cinema and its community of makers.
Exactly. Porter’s documentary fotos are very straightforward. Unlike films like Firefly & Amusement Park there’s no playing w/ light, no experimenting w/ long exposures. Most of the subjects are photographed from the front & sufficiently lit for details to show. There’s no ‘atmospheric’ lighting.
What stands out to me the most about them is not their style but the sheer dedication of sense of purpose that their quantity represents. Porter set out to document the people in underground film scenes, esp those in Toronto, & he did it, & did it, & did it again. It’s unlikely that such a document will ever exist again.
Back to Tuer & Porter in 1990:
When asked how he would respond to the threat of super 8’s obsolescence, which was being phased out at the time, he replied that he was planning to work with flip books and pen and paper.
Not a bad idea from my perspective. I’ve always been inspired by the mediums represented in Werner Nekes’s 1986 film Film Before Film, things like zoetropes still strike me as mediums full of untapped potential – just as filmstrips have.
Yes indeedy, I’m happy to leave a trail of myself in this bk.. but I have the feeling of being a sortof anti-censorship poster child. The picture shows me dancing w/ no pants on in front of a tv w/ an image on it. My hair is cut to make 12 moustaches on my head, I’m wearing a sweatshirt that has the chest cut open so that 6 latex breasts show. These breasts were modeled by someone who made things for a “Planet of the Apes” movie, they’re modeled on my friend Eugenie Vincent’s breasts & were worn by her for a jeans ad that was rejected as too sexploitative or some such. She gave them to me. I’m wearing ankle bells & a plastic ball-&-chain w/ the word “WORK” painted on the ball. The foto’s a pretty good representation of one aspect of what my performances were like on that 1986 tour.
On the same page as my foto there’s one of “Inspectors from the Ontario Censor Board visiting The Funnel, 507 King St. E., Toronto, for a last minute preview of a film – January 24, 1981. (Image redacted.)” On the facing page are 2 fotos of Ontario Film and Video Appreciation Society events relating to a court case they brought against the Ontario Censor Board. In other words, the image of my exposed cock is being used to show what freedom of expression Ontario residents were fighting for. That’s great.
However, from 1986 to 2005 I gave 8 screenings in Toronto (Hey, folks! Will I ever be invited back?!) & they had a huge variety of content. I’m glad this picture was chosen but I hope that someday the ones that John took at CineCycle in 1998 or the ones he took at Zerowork Jubilee in 1992 will get more circulation too. Come to think of it, one of the pictures used in my “Meanderthals in Motion (Pictures)” article in Incite! 4 IS of me in Toronto in 1992 & was probably taken by John although I mistakenly DIDN’T credit him (sorry about that!). You can see that here.
One of my favourite fotos in CineScenes is one of “Midi Onodera labelling envelopes while optical printing at The Funnel.” Not only does she not have a deadpan expression, unlike most of the people presented, but she’s also multi-tasking – the significance of wch will be recognized by any DIY person who’s tried to do as many things as possible at once b/c there are too many hats to wear to be so leisurely as to only do one.
Of course, I’m happy in particular to see my friends. There’s one of the “First meeting of “Token and Taboo” group at John Porter’s house” that includes William Davenport, Sherri Higgins, John, & Linda Feesey”. Hi kids! Then there’s ever-active Craig Baldwin & some Pittsburgh folks in a living rm I’ve spent a fair amt of time in. There’s also Steve Anker, one of the only presenters to support my work on multiple occasions.
Then there’re people like M.M. Serra of the NYC based Film-Makers’ Cooperative, a place I rented films from way back when in 1978 when I 1st curated a screening. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean there’s a picture of people in the London Film-Makers’ Co-op. I screened at one of their places in 1988.
There’s Abigail Child and Peggy Ahwesh. Kenneth Anger’s one of the canonized who doesn’t get excessively canonized treatment, only a single foto (altho he gets the whole page). Even a young student Brett Kashmere, now the editor of Incite!, is shown in a group foto.
CineScenes may open the door for more research. There are 2 fotos taken at the “Film Farm”, wch existed at least from 1994-2004. I’d like to know more. I’m reminded of a traveling 16mm series originating w/ Richard Ellsberry of Baltimore in the late 1970s called Show Dogs, a pun off of “Chaud”, French for “Hot”. I remember one screening that was out in the country at a house connected to a motorcycle club called “The Dirt That Moves,” my all-time favorite MC name.
Then there’s the sadness of a 3 foto spread of a very friendly looking Helen Hill, who I never knew, who the reader is informed was killed in a home invasion gone wrong.
There’re 2 fotos from the “First annual Parkdale Rehab Film and Video Showcase” wch looks like a positive thing.
Martin Heath pops up pretty often. In one case he’s in the company of Janet Attard & Brian Frye, 2 people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. There’s a picture of Joost Rekveld from Rotterdam in Toronto on February 19, 2000. Joost & I had performed together only a wk before in Windsor, Ontario. On the bottom of the same page there’s a picture of Luis A. Recoder who does interesting work w/ projection installations. Luis has astounded me by seeing screenings of mine in 3 or 4 cities.
There’s a picture of John Henry Nyenhuis & Istvan Kantor together. I’ve done quite alot w/ both these guys. John Henry & I’ve played together in Brighton, München, Toronto, & Berlin! Istvan & I are coconspirators in the (non-)cause of neoism. We’ve spent time together in Baltimore, Montréal, Toronto, New York, London, Vac, Budapest, Debrecen, & Windsor. Such friendships are rare.
Even Bruce LaBruce is in here. I 1st ran across his work when I witnessed his “Super 8 & 1/2” in Berlin in 1994 at Eiszeit Kino. It wasn’t an in-person appearance & the theater was almost empty. That’s often a sign of quality. I liked it very much.
There’s a foto of John Kneller’s front porch set up for a screening for trick-or-treaters. That looks like it was fun. There’s a foto of Byron Black performing w/ a pumpkin. I had some correspondence w/ Byron when he was living in Thailand (was it?). There’s a foto of a screening on the parkinglot behind CineCycle, I published a super-8 move of Martin’s of him doing things there.
Once we get into the color cell-phone pictures I found Dirk DeBruyn. I met Dirk in 2000 In Melbourne, Australia. He made one of my favorite movies, “Rote Movie”. He was part of a direct-on-film filmmakers group called “Direct Action”. We did some things together.
At last, we’re back to the older black & white fotos – in this case of john Porter shoulder-holding a super-8 projector so that he cd “film busk,” “onto his floating screen on the pond at Harbourfront Center”. That looks exciting!
Clint Enns, the editor of CineScenes, “His work primarily deals with moving images created with broken and/or outdated technologies.” I can relate!
This bk belongs in every serious collection on independent film of the last 40 yrs. There were only 500 printed so if you’re the librarian of a museum collection make sure to get one before they’re all gone. It’s essential.