Chicago's Own: Screen Testing

Hollow, a terrific second film by SAIC graduate Jeff Johnson, distinguishes this opening fall program of experimental film and video by Chicago Filmmakers. A series of static shots of walls, accompanied by the sounds in each space, it's the sort of minimalism that invites jokes (“a powerful vision of emptiness . . . ”), but its cranked-up ambient sound varies slightly from shot to shot, altering or expanding the feeling of each image; tiny cracks in the sound track become almost rhythmic. True to the program title, the entries all experiment with media to make the viewer more self-aware. Irene Gustafson and Julia Zay's three witty and lushly photographed Screen Tests are fake tests for 50s movie characters that humorously foreground the extreme artifice of fiction filmmaking. The boy in “No. 1,” auditioning for a part in Lassie, has lip and eyebrow piercings, and as he gestures and speaks to absent characters, the film's fictive world is left troublingly and evocatively incomplete. An offscreen director interviews an actress in “No. 3”; the pairing of his voice and her face creates an uneasy power relationship, though she does get to stare back. In Maia Cybelle Carpenter's drily witty The Shape of the Gaze butch women stare assertively at the camera, intercut with tools and machine parts. Kirsten Stoltmann's Christina Ricci consists only of the actress's name printed as a movie title, tweaking the arbitrariness of celebrity: just as you think a movie is starting, it's over. Christopher Bravo's 01-03-73 and Kenneth Eisenstein's Chests and Trunks, the Charter share a certain rhythmic elegance. But Bravo's silent abstract film recalls the 20s avant-garde he acknowledges as an influence: made mostly of black or white lines and rectangles, it uses rhythm to create a tension between light and dark, positive and negative space. In contrast, Eisenstein's subtly musical study in light seems heavily influenced by Brakhage. Also showing: another Jeff Johnson film, and works by Gemma Ryan and Thomas Comerford.

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