Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Two Short Films by R. Allen Kirkpatrick

R. Allen Kirkpatrick (b. 1937) is an American experimental filmmaker who was active in the avant-garde film scene beginning in the late 1960s and primarily in the 1970s, in New York City. His first major 16mm film, Orange Jesuit (uploaded here) is dated from 1972. Neon (also given here, first) is from 1971. Orange Jesuit deals with conceptions of religion, demonstrated primarily through juxtaposition and contrast (the title itself is inherently paradoxical), informed to some extent by Mao’s theory of contradiction. It is also informed to a degree by Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “Hurrahing in Harvest”: “The heart rears wings bold and bolder / And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet” — with the filmmaker himself, who appears as the protagonist throughout, seen “off under his feet” at the conclusion. (Kirkpatrick began his artistic career as a poet before moving into film.)

When these two films were transferred to video in 1990, Kirkpatrick added a description on the box that reads:

NEON
Jupiter
Times Square
and Beyond

ORANGE JESUIT
Symvisionary, lyric orange priest
unfrocked, unsprung at the very least
a churchly tiger without cage
restraint commingled with outrage

After these, Kirkpatrick’s next film was Naples and I Must Supply the World with Noodles (1973), which takes up issues of political violence and narcissism. An error in DVD transfer means that an incomplete version of this film (only a few scenes) comes after Orange Jesuit (which ends around the 18:00 minute mark).

Kirkpatrick’s “masterpiece,” not given here, is perhaps Adrenalin Devours the Blood (1975), which includes live footage of Lou Reed. Other titles in his oeuvre are Against Nature’s Silence (1969), which deals with Chinese history and Maoist philosophy, Green Bay Packers (1970), and Local Tyrants and Evil Gentry (1971).

Some clear influences on Kirkpatrick’s work are Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger, Jack Smith, and Jonas Mekas. All visual effects in Kirkpatrick’s films, the filmmaker points out, were done in the camera itself, with only cuts, splices, and sound being added later.

Kirkpatrick showed his films at, among other places, Penn State University in 1973. On April 10, 1976, he had a major showing at the Millennium Film Workshop when it was still in Manhattan at 66 E. 4th St. (then curated by Howard Guttenplan) of Fight Song, Neon, Orange Jesuit, Naples and I, and Adrenalin. (He later won two Emmy Awards for his work as film editor of the PBS TV show The Big Blue Marble.)

The early films — Against Nature’s Silence, Fight Song (a.k.a Green Bay Packers), Local Tyrants and Evil Gentry, and others — are 8mm. Neon, Orange Jesuit, Naples and I, and Adrenalin are 16mm.

The digital transfers of Neon and Orange Jesuit uploaded here come from a VHS transfer that was made in 1990, then a more recent (2009 or so) digital transfer from that VHS onto DVD. Adrenalin and Naples and I, though not available online, have been similarly digitized in this less-than-ideal mode. None of the others have yet been transferred and exist only on the original film reels, which are all extant. (The soundtracks for the 8mm films were originally created on accompanying reel-to-reel audio tapes, since transferred to cassette tapes. The 16mm films embed a soundtrack synched to the visual.)

Neon and Orange Jesuit now make their first appearance on the internet (albeit in second-generation transfer) in the hope that these long-obscure works of art may find a new or further audience, having previously been known only to a small group of cognoscenti. They are copyright © R. Allen Kirkpatrick and uploaded with his permission.

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