I’m pleased to have produced this DVD of shorts by the fabulously talented, Bluegrass songstress, and beautiful heterochromic-eyed filmmaker, Enid Baxter Blader.

“A dreamlike poem to landscape and the body, presence and memory, more delirious than anything Hollywood could imagine.”– Barry Schwabsky, Artforum

A Film is a Burning Place: Works by Enid Baxter Blader This compilation of experimental short films and videos by Enid Baxter Blader unfolds like the pages of a lost diary, with fleeting glimpses into an anonymous someone’s memories and desires. A filmmaker, painter, and bluegrass musician, Enid Baxter Blader finds inspiration in ruminations on rural life, stormy weather of the emotional and environmental variety, majestic landscapes, and small town civility.

Works on the DVD include: Local 909er, Secret Apocalyptic Love Diaries, The Revival of Lee Mackey (excerpt),They Will Cure What Ails, Blind Town/DownHome Sublime, Corn, 2001, Lindbergh Road (excerpt), Just a Second (excerpt), Blue (excerpt), Lucille and Letter from the Girl (excerpt). 101 Minutes.

The DVD includes an essay by novelist and journalist, Ben Ehenreich.

Purchase DVD
Wholesale through Microcinema

Mike Plante curated this superb DVD by some of the gods and goddesses of experimental cinema, and Aurora Picture Show and I produced it (Aurora Video Label). The DVD comes with a 60 page booklet of interviews from 10 years of Cinemad, Mike Plante’s indispensible zine about independent, avant-garde, and underground cinema.

Cinemad: Almanac 2009
A new DVD compilation of damn great short films by:

Animal Charm
Cam Archer

Stephanie Barber

Bruce Conner

Kevin Jerome Everson

James Fotopoulos

Sam Green

Jake Mahaffy

Bill Morrison
Leighton Pierce
Jennifer Reeves

Deborah Stratman

To celebrate 10 years of covering unusual films and filmmakers, Cinemad magazine presents a compilation of short films that defy simple categorization. Produced by Mike Plante and Andrea Grover. 77 minutes.

Purchase DVD here
Wholesale purchases through Microcinema

Here’s an excerpt from the press release for Confluence, the public art project I’ve been working on with Sandra Percival.

Buffalo Bayou Partnership Announces Confluence: Points of View on Buffalo Bayou and Spring Artists Talks

HOUSTON, Texas (February 18, 2009) – Buffalo Bayou Partnership announces Confluence: Points of View on Buffalo Bayou, a multi-year contemporary art project that will introduce innovative public art within the environs of Houston’s historic waterway. The first manifestation of Confluence is a March-April 2009 series of Artists Talks by participating artists, Matthew Coolidge/The Center for Land Use Interpretation, Mark Dion, Teresa Hubbard /Alexander Birchler, and Pedro Reyes.

The Buffalo Bayou Partnership, an organization that oversees beautification and redevelopment efforts along Houston’s historic waterway, has a long history of supporting public art on Buffalo Bayou from temporary architecture to dramatic permanent lighting design. These significant commissions by prominent artists and designers, such as Mel Chin and L’Observatoire International, undertaken over the last two decades, have established visual landmarks along the Bayou that contribute to the mapping of the waterway, and enhance public engagement with the bayou.

Confluence: Points of View on Buffalo Bayou will invite local, regional and international artists to create new temporary and permanent public artworks, integrated public programming, and special events for the 10-mile stretch of the Buffalo Bayou from the Memorial Park to the industrial Ship Turning Basin, connecting diverse Houston neighborhoods to the history and present-day life of the Bayou. Artists have been selected on the basis of their past work and their ability to engage the imaginative landscape of the bayou.

The Artists Talks series will introduce past work and proposals by artists invited to develop projects for Buffalo Bayou. The artists have conducted site visits to the bayou, presented preliminary ideas, and are in the research and development stage of their projects.

For more information, please contact Trudi Smith, Buffalo Bayou Partnership’s director of public relations and events (713.752.0314 ext. 3, tsmith@buffalobayou.org).

My wanderlust was satisfied this holiday with a family road trip from Texas to New York to visit my parents. Along the way, we visited/crashed with friends, film folks, and ex-Texans. Our northbound stops incuded the 100 acre Rushing Nursery near Mobile, Alabama; the headquarters for the A/V Geeks in Raleigh, NC; and a mountainside cabin/residence of Glen Latham in Linden, Virginia (where we had a some decadent donuts at The Apple House). We arrived at our destination: Freeport, NY on Christmas Eve, and now we depart for home (Houston, TX) in the morning. First stop, Orgone Archive residence in Pittsburgh, PA.

Pictured top to bottom:
Germaine at A/V Geeks HQ; Lola, Gigi, Ralph at Rushing Nursery; Glen in cozy cabin.

Click for complete photo set.

This past summer I continued taking photographs of my parent’s Long Island home and have posted them to my Flickr site. This is the same house I grew up in, and the major theme of the decor is “nautical”. Of late, I have been dreaming up my ideal home, largely influenced by my beach-side and road-side upbringing, and now I am certain I want to live in (a.) an r/v, (b.) a houseboat, OR (c.) a lighthouse. The following are some places I would live, if I could. Pictured: Starlux Hotel, Wildwood, NJ.

A Vintage Airstream Trailer in New Jersey
A Houseboat in Berlin
Galloo Island Lighthouse

DVD review for Cameraworks Fall/Winter Issue 2008

Here is Always Somewhere Else is a documentary film by Rene Daalden which pieces together the brief life of the enigmatic artist Bas Jan Ader (1942-1975) who was lost at sea during the creation of his final performance, In Search of the Miraculous. In 1975, Ader attempted to cross the North Atlantic in a twelve foot six inch sailboat named “Ocean Wave” from Massachusetts to Ireland, but only his vessel reached the Irish coast some six months later. For an artist whose films, photos, and performances were often framed around profound failure—images of the artist falling, colliding, crying—this final gesture seemed prophetic and staged, but continues to be a mystery for even those closest to him.

Thirty years later and upon the urging of Ader’s widow, Mary Sue Anderson, Rene Daalden began retracing Bas Jan Ader’s footsteps, which were often parallel to Daalden’s own—from Calvinist families in a small city in Holland to the no religion manmade landscape of Los Angeles. The two figures became aliens in both their assumed hometown and their actual homeland, or as Daalden states “home is never the same as you remember” for emigrants. While Ader took the path of conceptual art, Daalden became a feature film director, and his expertise in a more traditional movie realm serves this nearly impossible-to-recreate story well. Through the hazy lens of three decades past, Daalden successfully makes sense of Ader’s journey from failed artist in his lifetime to one of the most mythical and influential artists of today, using testimonies and excerpts of related works by contemporary artists like Charles Ray, Richard Serra, Tacita Dean, Marcel Broodthaers, Ger van Elk, Pipilotti Rist, and Rodney Graham, peppered throughout his story. In this way, Here is Always Somewhere Else is also a rare and engaging survey of contemporary art film and video.

Daalden begins the film by asserting how difficult it is to really know another human being, demonstrated by a visit to Ader’s widow’s home in Claremont, California, which only serves to heighten the mystery. Even the artist’s wife is bewildered by Ader’s intentions, and keeps the residue of his work—postcards for exhibitions, photographs, and notes–buried under a chaotic pile of junk, complete with scurrying rodents and shades of Grey Gardens happy madness. Mary Sue makes a suggestion to Daalden to use his own intuition to trace Bas Jan Ader’s journey, and this becomes the device for Daalden’s exploration of both his journey and Ader’s. Through archival images of Ader’s art films and Daalden’s feature films, the director discovers the overlapping themes of gravity, pilgrimages, and the search for one’s destiny—heavy subjects that Ader approached with comic self-deprecation and Daalden with camp. Interviews with Ader’s relatives and peers prove less revealing, and serve only to underscore the confusion that surrounded his brief life. Amazingly, the most profound statements come from the people who never knew Ader, namely the sailor Henk De Velde, who has circum-navigated the globe five times, and states with acuteness awareness that Ader was searching for the in-between moments–after the fall but before the impact–when you let go of this world for a instant.

With snippets of films of the artist falling from a tree into a stream, riding his bicycle into a canal, rolling off of his rooftop, and forcing himself to cry on camera, the documentary depicts a hopeless romantic, whose sentimentality was cultural and deep-rooted in a tragic family history, but ill-matched for the time, which favored Fluxus and irony. The real clue to Ader’s work comes from the story of his parents, resistance heroes who hid Jews in their home during World War II, leading to the execution of his father, when Ader was only a toddler. Their heroic gestures and constant search for divine meaning, left an impression on Ader that he could only express through trying to always be somewhere else, to become part of the cosmos or an ocean wave.

Written for PIQ Magazine, May 2008

While America’s favorite movie of all time might be Titanic by James Cameron, for 16mm film collector Skip Elsheimer it’s Pride on Parade by Oscar Meyer, a 1979 morale-boosting film made to increase the productivity of assembly line workers by comparing their synchronized activities with those of a high school marching band. Images of festooned, high-stepping musicians are juxtaposed with weary looking Oscar Meyer team members in lab coats and plastic shower caps as they sort, inspect and package baloney and hotdogs. See the similarity?

It’s the search for these sorts of “huh?” moments that makes collecting 16mm PSAs, educational, training, and industrial films an obsession for Skip Elsheimer, founder of the A/V Geeks archive. Did anyone in the Oscar Meyer production crew notice the weak smiles of the workers and the porno-like quality of the assembly-line footage with rhythmically bouncing hot dogs? (Skip says the trade term for this is “assembly line porn”.) These bad ideas gone good are common among 20th century informational films, like another of Skip’s finds, Shake Hands with Danger (1980)–a cautionary tale of heavy machinery accidents and careless operators, set to a catchy country and western song about severed fingers.

Shake hands with danger
Meet a guy who oughta know

I used to laugh at safety

Now they call me… Three-Finger Joe

After watching so many safety films you would think some of it would have rubbed off, but Skip’s house in Raleigh, North Carolina is piled high with potential hazards. His bungalow is home to 20,000+ film prints, assorted projectors, a Telecine (for transferring films to digital formats), a large collection of film strips and their accompanying (beeeeep) cassette tapes, as well as his supportive girlfriend Germaine Fodor (and her own collection of original handicrafts like a Toast-chee pillow she made for Skip after their first date), not to mention their rescued and disabled iguana Judy, who roams free, at about one inch per hour.

In the 1990s, Skip was a member of the Raleigh-based music/performance art collective, Wifflefist—known for live audio/visual mash-ups of media history, such as their Hee Haw/Lawrence Welk Show show. This was a continuation of Skip’s childhood interest in puppet shows and drama club. While searching for material for one of their gigs, the group acquired a large quantity of discarded 16mm films at a local flea market. This passing fancy for Wifflefist, which disbanded in 1998, eventually became Skip’s full time pursuit. The datedness and campy fashions were part of the initial appeal of the films, but as time passed, Skip grew to appreciate their more subtle qualities—experimental camera work, imbedded sociological meaning, and unintentional works of art. A recent find from the latter category is titled Tire Rigging Demo (no date)—with stunning close up shots of car tires rolling and bouncing over mountainous terrain accompanied by exhilarating production music. Skip guesses this test film was made to demonstrate an ad agency’s “new rig” to potential automobile industry clients, the first clue being that it was recovered from a dumpster outside of an ad agency in Los Angeles.

How Skip amassed over 1,000 films per year can be explained by the 1980s technological shift from film to video. As VHS tapes became the preferred teaching format of libraries and archives, entire collections of 16mm ephemeral films from the 1930s-1980s were phased out of school systems and public libraries nationwide, with no time or money to consider transferring or preservation. Skip says, “They needed the room to replace old teaching machines–16mm projectors and films—with new teaching machines– computers. Often I would need to pick up an entire room of films and shelving to make way for PCs.” There was a kind of film free-for-all for anyone who could reduce a librarian’s laborious trips to the waste bin. Now Skip makes special road trips to distant states to save de-accessioned films (he’s like the EMS of celluloid), and occasionally rounds out his collection with a rare title or two purchased from Ebay—though he dislikes the online auction house overall because “it sucks my time, and my money.” While the films may mostly be free for the asking, the habit of collecting is not. Skip’s decision to buy an eight-bedroom former Raleigh boarding house for storage purposes, and pour his life savings into purchasing, picking-up, and refurbishing a coke machine-size, 1000 lb. Telecine was the price he paid to keep up with his obsession. In the last three years he has finally cobbled together enough income through film transfers, stock footage licensing, public screenings, talks, and DVD sales via his publisher Fantoma to quit his day job as a funny and affable phone support technician for Alien Skin Software. International tech support has lost a rare asset while film history has gained an archivist.

Today, Skip is part of a small circle of well-known 16mm collectors in the U.S., among them, Rick Prelinger of Prelinger Archives, who Skip cites as a major influence. Rick began collecting ephemeral films about a decade before Skip, and made national news in 2002 when the majority of his films (over 120,000 individual cans) were acquired by the Library of Congress. Rick and Skip both contribute to the website, www.archive.org–providing free distribution of public domain films–and have been spokespersons for film preservation, orphan films, copyright and ownership issues. Skip says the two met circa 1993 when he was trying to sell films (unknowingly) to a client of Rick’s, namely, Mystery Science Theater. Skip sent along a list of titles to MST, which they then forwarded to Rick. Rick did a little reconnaissance by calling Skip and inquiring if he had a copy of the sought after title Soapy The Germ Fighter (1951). Skip did, and the friendship commenced. Since then Skip has successfully licensed footage to television shows like Wonder Showzen, VH1, and The History Channel.

What really distinguishes Skip from other collectors is his signature A/V Geeks film screenings that are participatory, performative, raucous, and generally take place in unusual settings (although he has regular screenings at two Raleigh mainstays–the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science, and an Irish Pub called Tir Na Nog.) He has shown school bus safety films on a moving school bus, cafeteria manners films in a Middle School cafeteria, films about drinking in a micro-brewery, films about insects and pesticides on a farm, creepy religious films in a church, boat safety films on a boat, films about meat in a sausage factory, films about winter in the middle of a gruelingly hot, humid summer, and films about fathers for Father
‘s Day hosted by Skip and his dad. Major institutions like Anthology Film Archives, New York, George Eastman House, Rochester, and the American Museum of the Moving Image, Long Island City have also opened their doors and their theaters to him.

You can see the broad appeal when you read about the shows in Skip’s own words.

And A Puppet Shall Lead Them: For some reason, somebody in charge felt that they could get their point across better if they used a puppet. Nevermind how distracting, ludicrous and somewhat creepy it all looks. Join the A/V Geeks for a night of 16mm films where the puppets know best. Films included: The Toymaker, Santa Claus and Punch and Judy, Parents: Who Needs Them? and What Is A Family?

Small Furry Animals And The Sins Of Man: Who said that animals can’t sin?!? A look into a world where dogs are bigots, lemmings commit suicide and rats perform heinous crimes against nature. These films come from a school system near you for your entertainment. All you have to do is figure out what the lesson was supposed to be.. Films included: Hoppy the Bunny, Frank and his Dog, Skipper Learns a Lesson, Disney’s White Wilderness: Lemmings (excerpt), Ratapolis (excerpt) and Squeak the Squirrel.

Food: It’s What for Dinner: 16mm educational films that deal with food and food preparation. Delightful, delicious and good for you too! Or is it? Films include Why Eat Our Vegetables, Keeping Food Safe To Eat, Tasting Party, Short Order Cookery, Pride on Parade, Outbreak of Salmonella Infection and The Art of Cake Decorating with Norman Wilton.

Huh?: Whoever made these films had a point to make. They wrote a script, involved dozens of people and spent lots of money. So, why is it that these films don’t make any sense? Films include: Easy Way Out, Appy’s Adventures, Curious Habits of Man, Day the Milk Was Turned Off, Punctuation: Colon, Semicolon, and Question Marks.

What every one of the A/V Geeks events includes, regardless of location, is a kick-off participatory read-a-long film strip on subjects like Why Aren’t I Popular? and What Troubles A Troublemaker? Audience members read one line of the text while Skip congratulates them on their solid reading skills. This sets the classroom tone and helps bring those who remember back to their school days.

Today Skip is heavily involved with the recently inaugurated International Home Movie Day, and is also helping to digitize and put online other institution’s film collections, like the Academic Film Archive of North America and University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Museum (with over 600 anthropology and archeology films). In his most monumental task to date, Skip was hired by NASA to put their entire collection of film and video on the Internet. He says he doesn’t collect films just to own them, but rather, “to reintroduce these films to the public. Their real value is in showing them to people.”

I curated a DVD titled “At Your Service: Escaping the Project Trap” for the Spring 2008 issue of Art Lies magazine. It’s a compilation of artists’ informational videos and new media works that use recent innovations and information aggregators (Google maps, GPS, flight pattern tracking, statistical data.) for purposes other than they are intended. Have a look.

Pictured: Aram Bartholl’s Map

I am searching for an electric vehicle that I can buy right now. It has to reach highway speeds, get at least 50 miles per charge, and have room for 3-4 passengers (since I’ll be traveling with my showgirls, Lola & Baby G). I am currently on a consumer waiting list for a Phoenix Motorcar, their SUT model pictured here.

On Friday, I watched Who Killed the Electric Car, a documentary about the auto industry’s destruction of their own (successful) electric vehicle programs. EVs require little maintenance and are not dependent on gasoline– indicating that both the oil and auto industries would suffer profit losses should the EVs catch-on.

Cortez at Trader Vic'sEver since the Grover/Lama family (me, Carlos, Lola and Gigi) and our friend Guy returned from our RV vacation along the California coast, we have been unable to think about anything but RVs. This weekend, we drove to Holiday World and Camping World to see if they had any diesel engine, Class C vehicles, but they didn’t (we want a diesel so we can convert to biodiesel). They said Dutchman will have one out soon, but while we’re fond of the name, we’re not too fond of their vehicles. So we are thinking that when the time comes, we will have our brother-in-law, John, customize an RV for us via his ambulance-manufacturing business: Frazerbilt. John seemed intrigued by this when we popped the question at our daughter Gigi’s second birthday party today. While Honeydew the Clown entertained our kids, we talked about the future Aurora Mobile Microcinema/home for family of four (plus one roadie, Guy).

My friend Bree Edwards is living the motorhome lifestyle right now, on tour with Dream Theater. She and her boyfriend Johnny Dekam are providing live video visuals for the world tour. Bree has been a big inspiration for me this year, constantly feeding my head with green utopian nomadic prefabulous ideas.

My passion for compact family travel probably took root in the 1970s when my family of 7 regularly took trips in our 1968 Clark Cortez motorhome, always with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass playing in the 8 track player. My father converted the closet into bunk beds for me and my sister, Joanne; the beds measured about 2 x 5 feet, but we loved them as long as no one closed the sliding closet doors. Later, my parents purchased a 41′ Morgan ketch, and crammed as many as 13 family members on board for a little coastal cruising. It was at this time that my dad bought his first and only firearm as protection from “pirates”. It was a rifle of some sort, and I remember that his friend Marie Bolton carried it on board Chalk Airlines for us when she met us in Bimini. Can you imagine having a rifle as your carry on? When I recently questioned my parents about this, they said “oh, well she packed the bullets in her checked luggage.” Reassuring to the other passengers, I’m sure.

Pictured: A 1968 Clark Cortez that some fine person has remodeled.