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February 04, 2016

Paolo Gioli: The Complete Filmworks

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Paolo Gioli - 1969-2014
Raro Video Region 1 DVD

It's been forty years since I took P. Adams Sitney's class at New York University on what has been called underground, avant-garde, or experimental films. I wish he was around to help me articulate what we have here. Not only does this three disc collection include all of Gioli's films, but there is also an interview, and a short documentary of Gioli trying to duplicate an experiment by Edwin Land, the inventor of the Polaroid film, regarding color perception. There's over eight hours of stuff here, and it is a bit overwhelming to watch even over the course of two days. In Paola Gioli's case, the sometimes misapplied term of "experimental cinema" is appropriate as many of the films were made with in such a way that the results could not be anticipated.

Gioli primarily seems to be interested in the nature of film, specifically the strips of celluloid, how images are recorded and manipulated, as well as how film reacts to different kinds of elements both within and outside of nature. Gioli took up filmmaking after coming to New York City, a young painter, reacting to the explosion of the arts in the late Sixties, and how art and artists informed each other's work. The first film, Tracce di Tracce was created mostly by Gioli's fingerprints painted on the frames to create a series of abstract images. It's the kind of work that evokes Stan Brakhage or Len Lye. Gioli was unaware of Brakhage at the time, but, like Brakhage , most of his work is silent. Gioli's other films have similarities with other filmmakers. In his own way, Gioli makes me think of Ken Jacobs reworking the silent film, Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son. Taking the 1905 film, shot as a series of tableaus, with a stationary camera filming the action from a distance, Jacobs broke down the film into a series of shots, examining the the multiple bits of action within each of the original shots, stretching a five minute short to almost two hours.

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The comparison with Ken Jacobs is not to be taken too closely. What Gioli does, is take film either shot by himself, or from other sources, and in addition to closing in on parts of the original image, will create mirror, reverse or negative images. There are also smaller images inserted within the frame. There are film strips exposed through pin hole cameras, with Gioli's hand used as a shutter. Film strips are also seen traveling unmoored from the sprockets. Gioli also "animates" still photos, sometimes creating little narratives with unrelated shots, as well as using different film formats. Additionally, Gioli would build his own cameras to create films that were independent of exposing film at 18 or 24 frames per second, or restrained by the sprockets in a conventional camera.

The thirty-eight films, all of varying lengths, are grouped together roughly by theme, and techniques explored by Gioli. The DVD set comes with a booklet that includes an essay discussing the history of avant-garde and experimental films in Italy, and Gioli's place within that history, an essay by David Bordwell on what he calls Gioli's "vertical cinema", an interview with Gioli, and notes by Gioli that provide the English language translation of the film titles, and a brief description on how each film was created.

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Posted by peter at February 4, 2016 05:14 PM