Films by Joseph Cornell | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Films by Joseph Cornell

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One of America's greatest visual artists, Joseph Cornell also made a number of films, the best of which recall the otherworldliness of his boxes and collages (a superb collection of which is on view at the Art Institute). The films, most dating from the 50s, are hard to pin down, as he often revised them during his lifetime; several were discovered in his estate and were judged by scholar P. Adams Sitney to be Cornell works even though there's no record of the artist's ever having screened them. In one of these, Bookstalls, Cornell considers the transportive power of books, cutting from photographs in books to a disjointed journey through exotic locales (Cornell himself never traveled overseas). In another, Vaudeville Deluxe, he assembles footage of performers, like a man who balances in his mouth a frame that supports a seated woman; the film recalls the fascination with the stage that characterizes Cornell's boxes. In this program's print of Angel the colors have faded to pale pastels, yet the statue of an angel in a park fountain and the debris creeping across its waters create a palpable sense of enchantment. The fading of Centuries of June is more damaging, leaving ugly orange browns, but a young Stan Brakhage, who shot the film for Cornell, shows evidence of his later style in his dynamic filming of an old wooden house's interior and exterior. In Mulberry Street Cornell's editing mirrors the fragmented attention of children playing on a New York street: a bust of Mozart in a shop window, a framed picture of a woman, and even a cat become mysterious, sentient presences. The magic, as in most of his films, lies in the way ordinary objects take on extraordinary evocative powers. On the same program, Cornell's best-known film, Rose Hobart; Children; The Aviary; Cloches a Travers les Feuilles; Joanne Union Square; By Night, With Torch and Spear; Nymphlight; and Capuccino. School of the Art Institute, 112 S. Michigan, room 1311, Wednesday, November 3, 7:00, 312-345-3588. --Fred Camper

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