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Thursday, March 10th, 2005

The films of Ernie Gehr at the LA Film Forum

My appreciation of experimental/avant-garde films has admittedly been one that evolved with time. When I was first exposed to them during my freshman year at college my first reaction was one of confusion. I remember thinking, “There’s no story here, no dialogue, no characters—-I don’t get it!” Then I later came to regard these films as something of a novelty. They were trippy and something that would be cool to have playing during a party. As time marched on and as my film studies progressed, I began to see these films in an entirely different light. I no longer wondered where the stories were. It was up to me to figure that out. I started looking at the films the way I’d look at a painting in a museum and just let my imagination and emotions guide me to a conclusion about what I was seeing. That is actually far more of an intellectual challenge than being spoon fed the meaning of something in any case. I now appreciate these films and I think that exposure to them should be a part of everyone’s cinematic diet.

Fortunately here in LA we have several venues to see these types of films in…..the LA Film Forum, Red Cat, the Echo Park Film Center and even the 7 Dudley Cinema in Venice.

Last night I went to the LA Film Forum to see the films of avant-garde filmmaker Ernie Gehr. The first film was called REVERBERATION and was made in 1969. For some reason I have a terrible time describing things. I’ll try though….. This film was raw, gritty and showed people in the streets in NY in various stages of movement. The sound was a static reverberation. The film made me think about how every moment in our lives has a ripple effect….like when you throw a rock in a pond. The film also seemed to me to capture these people right before something devastating was about to happen…like the moment RIGHT before you get into a car accident….not the accident itself mind you….just that moment.

The next film was called THE ASTRONOMER’S DREAM from 2004. This film put me in a sort of catatonic state. It was a homage in some ways to early filmmaker Georges Melies. It was a mixture of footage, bars and ambient sound from a variety of sources. It was interesting and had an almost ghostly otherworldly quality to it.

The final film of the evening was PRECARIOUS GARDEN also from 2004. This film was filled with canted angles and images of a sunny colorful garden. The film had a haunting quality to it and it made me think about how fragile and fleeting our lives are. I started to cry. Right as I was walking out the door to leave for Film Forum, my Mom called to tell me that a family friend had suddenly died. It was tragic and completely unexpected. I felt shocked and saddened and overwhelmed. I started crying during the film and then I couldn’t even breathe. Not wanting to draw any attention to myself, I struggled to maintain my composure so that no one could tell.

At the Q&A after the film Ernie Gehr said that he had a tumor in his ear that had to be removed. He said that afterward he had trouble seeing and problems with balance. He said that the film was about his feelings in the aftermath of being so sick. I completely understood that.

I’ve heard many people say that you should just judge a film based on it’s merit alone and not incorporate personal feelings or history into your opinion. That is a perfectly valid way to approach it, but I don’t know if I’m capable of doing that all the time. Where I’m at in my life often times creeps into my opinions for better or worse. For me that is unavoidable. In the case of last night, I think that is actually a good thing. If I had left for the screening and missed my Mom’s call….I don’t think I would have been as moved by the films. Sure I would have appreciated them and gotten something out of it, BUT not quite on the same level.

I got invited to dinner after the films, but I’m afraid I would have been a dreadful dinner guest given my emotional state. I went home that night and thought about our family friend that died…and those who are left behind…and what is going to happen now…...All the while the images of Ernie Gehr were echoing around in my head.

Written by Karie (site owner) on 03/10 at 09:23 AM


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