FILM MONTAGES (FOR PETER ROEHR)
video, color, 11 minutes, 2006
An appropriated video work that also serves as a tribute to a great artist of the 1960s, Film Montages (for Peter Roehr) takes simple repetition as its first principle. William E. Jones arranges fragments of gay porn films into a musical composition at once austere and delirious.
Filmforum, Los Angeles; Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley; Mix New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Good Morning, Midnight, Casey Kaplan Gallery, New York; You, Whose Beauty Was Famous in Rome, Mandarin Gallery, Los Angeles; Records Played Backwards, The Modern Institute, Glasgow; Home Works IV, Beirut, Lebanon; Cinémathèque française, Paris; The Pain Game, Nosbaum & Reding, Luxembourg; REDCAT, Los Angeles; Anthology Film Archives, New York
To read William Jones’s essays in progress on Peter Roehr, click here.
Catherine Wagley, “Beauty’s Dark Side” artslant.com, March 2, 2008.
Mandarin Gallery’s current exhibition is a conundrum. You, Whose Beauty Was Famous in Rome, curated by young LA art scene figures Andrew Beradini and Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer, is both wily and gapingly tender, leaving you torn between the charm of the appropriated imagery and the works’ darker side.
Much of the dapper collage and photography by the show’s eight artists has the same fugitive allure as the defaced books that got 1960's British writers Joe Orton and Kenneth Haliwell into trouble. Orton and his lover Haliwell enhanced the Islington Library’s collection by borrowing books and then returning them with altered jackets. The risqué, comic alterations were visually quite gripping, but they landed Orton and Haliwell in jail. Haliwell’s 1967 murder of Orton and subsequent suicide seems like the tragic conclusion to an initially mirthful lovers’ escapade.
You, Whose Beauty Was Famous in Rome similarly seems like a tender escapade that somehow—nothing in the show tells us exactly how—became weighted down by tragedy. Elad Lassry’s sleek photographs, 3 Variations on a Bob, might come off as lighthearted if not hung so near Hedi El Kholti’s All that Heaven Allows—two C-prints that recall the sort of nightmarish dreams in which nothing ever happens, but your whole life seems to be crowding in on you.
William Jones’ film montage may be the exhibition’s most unnerving element. The video, shown in its own suite of the gallery, repeats fragmented film segments again and again until you feel as though you know each segment inside out. You’ve committed the inseam of an actor’s jeans to memory, but you have no idea where he is going when he exits the frame. This sort of immediacy coupled with pending doom makes You, Whose Beauty Was Famous in Rome a remarkable collaboration. The exhibition’s lively sleekness only makes the pervasive sense of loss more pronounced.
Holland Cotter, “‘Good Morning, Midnight’ at Casey Kaplan,” New York Times, July 27, 2007.
This mostly Californian group show is the brainchild of the estimable Los Angeles-based art critic Bruce Hainley. And it feels a little like his writing: smart, buzzy, mordant, uncanonical, the kind of writing that makes most of the rest of us sound like uptight schoolteachers. In “Good Morning, Midnight” — the title is from a Jean Rhys novel — Mr. Hainley sends up a few thematic balloons, but he keeps them light and drifting.
Sex is one theme, but it’s oblique. Jasper Johns’s “Tantric Detail” is basically an abstract drawing that happens to have genitals. Jeff Burton’s photograph of a pornographic movie shoot keeps the action mostly off camera. William E. Jones’s short videos made from cut-and-splice bits of vintage pre-AIDS pornography are primarily mental turn-ons, metaphysical meditations. He’s a majorly underknown artist.
The show has a glamour thread, too, or maybe anti-glamour, but either way it’s unemphatic. In Larry Johnson’s “Untitled (The Thinking Man’s Judy Garland)” (1999-2000), neither Garland nor anyone else is in evidence. An installation by Lisa Lapinski carries a hefty theory- studies title: “Christmas Tea=Meeting, Presented by Dialogue and Humanism, Formerly Dialectics and Humanism.” But the piece itself just looks breezily enigmatic.
Enigmatic — lighter than mysterious — is the word I’d also use for work by Vincent Fecteau, Richard Hawkins, Trisha Donnelly and Roger Hiorns, all artists I like. And I’m glad to see Mitchell Syrop here, with a text painting that reads “There’s No Device to Record It” but gives no hint of what “it” might be.
The best for last, though: the filmmaker George Kuchar, author, with his twin brother, Mike, of “Reflections From a Cinematic Cesspool,” director of “Ascension of the Demonoids,” in which sex, anti-glamour and many other imponderables meet. When the day arrives — and it will — to appoint an official United States cultural ambassador to Outer Space, Mr. Kuchar is the obvious choice. I will say no more. See his films. He is beyond enigmatic. He is “it.” I salute him.
Johnny Ray Huston, “Underworld Meets Underground: William E. Jones Uncovers Hidden Stories in Porn’s Dark Edges,” San Francisco Bay Guardian, vol. 41, no. 20 (February 14-20, 2007) p. 57.
A freeway is viewed from a distance in pitch-black night as oncoming white dots (the fronts of cars) and retreating red dots (their backs) hop like tiny Lite-Brites from one spot to another. It’s a cinematic atmosphere as potent as a dream; this first shot from William E. Jones’s Film Montages (for Peter Roehr) isn’t the kind of image one might associate with porn. In fact, highly poetic urban documentary was commonplace in ’70s and early ’80s gay porn. Directors such as Fred Halsted, Christopher Rage, and Peter Berlin used film to creatively explore and express sexual identity before urban gay life was attacked by AIDS and vampirized by mainstream consumerism. For Jones, the works of these underworld auteurs contain an endless array of sidelines to rediscover and uncover. Instead of excavating the era’s graphic, condom-free sex, he spotlights the erotically charged spaces around it.
With a feature doc about Latino Smiths fans (2004’s Is It Really So Strange?) on his résumé, Jones knows about hidden subcultural histories, his own included. He might be considered the unsung talent associated with the new queer cinema of the early ’90s. A few of the era’s bigger names (Todd Haynes, Gregg Araki) have since moved deeper into Hollywood, while others (Jennie Livingston, Tom Kalin) seem trapped in creative lockdown. Jones’s autobiographical 1991 feature, Massillon, was, along with Haynes’s Superstar, the most experimental and exciting formal work when the movement was cresting; since then his output has been infrequent and varied. Whereas Massillon (a huge influence on Jenni Olson’s recent San Francisco–set The Joy of Life) was shot, with oft-gorgeous results, on film, subsequent Jones works such as 1997’s unconventional biography Finished and the self-explanatory 1998 short The Fall of Communism as Seen in Gay Pornography (which would make for a perfect mini–double bill with Phil Collins’s 1999 How to Make a Refugee) primarily reframe preexistent video footage for new narrative purposes.
Last year, however, Jones experienced a renaissance in terms of output. Three of at least five works he completed during 2006 will be screened at the Pacific Film Archive this week; alas, Mansfield 1962, one of the best and a hot document of legally sanctioned homophobia, isn’t among them. Its title notwithstanding, Film Montages is the one that favors sensory pleasure over discursive pursuits. A tribute to the editing of the late German experimental filmmaker Roehr, it magnifies the visual and sonic textures of pre-AIDS gay porn through a series of short shots, initially presented in times-four repetitions. Wonderfully chunky bass lines and sinister-cold keyboard stabs, images of hands grazing against each other and over black leather, close-ups of tape recorders with Maxell C-90 tapes, campy Germanic voice-overs discussing men “who shyly moved about without ehhhvvver exchanging a word” — they all go through four-step paces, establishing a rhythmic musicality. Then Jones’s montage lands on an orgiastic still of four entwined male bodies, and he further emphasizes its languor — a quality now nonexistent, as Daniel Harris has noted, due to current porn’s bored god–playing–with–hairless dolls couplings — by increasing the repetition. From there the masculine noise of boots scuffling on a floor and snippets of threatening dirty talk about making “a real man’s man” lead to an ending that teases around the edges of climax with fetishistic fervor and skill.
Holly Willis, “New Video Work by William E. Jones,” L. A. Weekly, December 8, 2006, p. 110.
At their best, remix artworks produce uncanny connections out of the most unlikely combinations. Such is the case with the trio of sound-image mashups created by Los Angeles avant-garde filmmaker William E. Jones and curated by CalArts professor Thom Andersen. In Film Montages (for Peter Roehr) (2006), Jones pays tribute to the work of 1960s German conceptual artist Peter Roehr, known for his fascination with repetition. In the 11-minute piece, Jones combines and repeats shots borrowed from ’70s gay-porn films, starting with an image of dancing spots of light on a nighttime highway. Through repetition, the lights become an algorithmic music video, followed by a shot of four entwined naked bodies, which become a fleshy, pulsing machine. Separated from the flow of the narrative, the montages highlight gestures (the odd movement of a hand or arm), reveal patterns and textures (soft blue jeans against shiny leather) or capture moments that might otherwise pass unnoticed. (At one point, three men and a blowjob get derailed when everyone bursts out laughing.) From the start, the beautifully crafted Film Montages rocks like music, its image sequences creating melodies and layers that build and fade with a jubilant, erotic glory. The 59-minute v. o. (2006) also features pre-’80s gay porn, here mixed with sound clips from classic foreign films, combinations determined by matching the lengths of sound and image sequences. Surprisingly, the chance matchups often prove eerily perfect, and gradually craft an elliptical narrative of wistful, faded and complex desire. Also screening: More British Sounds (2006), another brilliant mash-up, this time pairing the porn film The British Are Coming and the Dziga Vertov Group’s See You at Mao.