Kian Bergstrom reviews the “Hand and Machine” experimental film series for Cine-File

subtext-eyeOver the past decade, Richard Tuohy and Dianna Barrie, co-founders of Nanolab, an artisan film laboratory in Australia, have been producing a series of hand-made, intricately structured, and expertly manipulated films that explode the possibilities of motion picture images. Their work, meticulously built on a frame-by-frame basis on the optical printer, in a specialized darkroom, and on a variety of custom-built equipment, is among the most purely cinematic that I have ever seen: every fragment of every frame is made to bear meaning, details flow into one another, connecting gestures with colors with sudden shifts and edits within the same composite images. In these films, the predominant theme is an exploration of technological magic, as Tuohy and Barrie find new and truly revelatory ways of exploring the wondrousness of transforming isolated still photographs into kaleidoscopic patterns of ceaseless, overwhelming movements, a sorcery that was recognized at the outset of cinema’s first public exhibitions but that has been allowed all too often to grow pedestrian and stale. Tuohy and Barrie’s work reenergizes that power, making cinema strange again, making its amazing tricks new and stunning again, making cinema that simply cannot be domesticated into the mere digital simulacrum of digital projection. The films are maddening, exhilarating dives into urban realms of bustle, crowd, skyscraper, street, and light that fulfill one of the great promises of art, to let us think in new and unexpected ways, more violently, beautifully, and totally almost than can be bourn. In its aggregation of their films, the program forms a brilliant master-class in transforming how we see and understand the world, which is to say that they transform the world itself. In many of these works, the filmmakers use a technology that they developed called the chromoflex to create powerful and striking in-frame montages that show both positive and negative images of the same thing simultaneously. In others, micro moments of time are dissected and explored and rebuilt in terrible, wonderful formal precisions and games that are as exhausting as they are revolutionary. Not a one of these is weak. Not a one of these fails to challenge, and perhaps even to conquer, the stale, received tales of what is allowed and what is forbidden, what can be done and what cannot be done with a strip of 16mm film. Like an encyclopedia for the senses, watching Tuohy and Barrie’s films is a gargantuan experience. One’s eyes fairly drown in the possibilities they offer for new ways of perceiving material things and our relations to them.

Showing in the program are: BLUE LINE CHICAGO (2014, 10 min) by Richard Tuohy and Dianna Barrie, GINZA STRIP (2014, 9 min) by Richard Tuohy, LUX (2010, 6 min) by Dianna Barrie, CROSSING (2016, 11 min) by Richard Tuohy and Dianna Barrie, INVENTION OF THE WHEEL (2015, 14 min) by Richard Tuohy and Dianna Barrie, PANCORAN (2017, 7 min) by Richard Tuohy and Dianna Barrie, LAST TRAIN (2016, 12 min) by Dianna Barrie and Richard Tuohy, ETIENNE’S HAND (2011, 13 min) by Richard Tuohy.

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