San Francisco’s hub for experimental film, media, and performance, the Crossroads festival opened its ninth annual edition yesterday, and dedicated the events to the memory of Paul Clipson. A filmmaker widely beloved in the Bay Area and beyond, Clipson was only fifty-two when he passed away in February. Experimenting with layering, double exposure, and other effects created in-camera, he would often tour with musicians like Grouper, Maggi Payne, and Black Spirituals, turning his projections into live performances.
Clipson was also the lead projectionist at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and on June 21, SFMOMA will present a tribute, an evening of screenings, performance, and a slide show sampling images from his book REEL. First published in 2014, REEL collects his extraordinary drawings and notes illustrating the moment before the “cigarette burn” in the upper righthand corner of the screen signals to a projectionist that it’s time to switch reels. A few of Clipson’s works are also included in Crossroads 2018, curated by San Francisco Cinematheque artistic director Steve Polta and running through Sunday. For more on Clipson, take a look at a roundup of writing on his work that we published earlier this year.
Festivals like Crossroads—and programs such as Wavelengths in Toronto and Projections in New York—occasionally prompt Michael Sicinski, one of the most essential writers on experimental film, to reassess the state of the art. In his latest piece for the Notebook, Sicinski selects just a handful of films from the Crossroads lineup of seventy-six works by sixty-two artists and groups them into three clusters. Robert Todd’s Marking Time, Peggy Ahwesh’s The Falling Sky, and Stephanie Barber’s 3 peonies, for example, would be “harmonized” films, works that define a set of parameters and explore a set forms within them. A second cluster of “dispersive, outward-looking” films, such as Jonathan Schwartz’s The Crack-Up, Karen Yasinsky’s Vera, and Michael Robinson’s Onward Lossless Follows, “feel as though they could conceivably be opened up to accommodate more information.”
Robinson himself, by the way, writes about Onward Lossless Follows for Revolver: “It looks at our desire to find romance within a collapsing world, and considers abduction as a form of ecstatic escape—a potential shortcut to a better place. In other words, the world is ending but the heart feels new, and ready to reset itself in a freshly rewritten reality.”
Sicinski’s third category is what he calls the “perpetual mode,” works that could be spliced into segments and rearranged, and we’d still have “several microcosms of the same essential object configuration.” Here, Sicinski focuses on the Colectivo Los ingravídos’ Sun Quartet whose four parts are “urgent, propulsive, and gesture towards a new kind of engaged cinema.”