Hy Hirsh and the 50s: Jazz and Abstraction in Beat Era Film

Six of the fifteen films on this program are by Hy Hirsh, who worked in Los Angeles and San Francisco from 1930 until 1955, when he moved to Europe (he died in 1961 in Paris). A still photographer and former Hollywood cameraman, Hirsh was fascinated by technology; he also loved jazz, which not only provided the soundtrack for most of his work but also seems to have influenced its form. Hirsh excels at producing ecstatic surprises, continually setting up patterns only to undercut them. Chasse des touches (1959) opens with colored lines twisting rapidly, as if tracing out Theolonious Monk's riffs in space. Three rectangles abruptly appear within the image, each containing the same abstract lines, like little movie screens, and then white scratches appear over them, creating a sudden impression of depth. Scratch Pad(1961) opens with dense and diverse abstract patterns; then clouds appear behind the scratches, opening up the anterior space. Scratches over landscape footage sometimes limn the photographed forms, but at other times disrupt or obliterate them. The imagery is always on the brink of chaos, but is held together by Hirsh's miraculous, disciplined inventiveness. The curator, IotaCenter, restored most of the films on the program. Also showing are films by Robert Breer, Jordan Belson, Patricia Marx, Shirley Clarke, Mary Ellen Bute, Harry Smith, John Whitney, Sr., and James Whitney. This is the first part of a touring program entitled KINETICA 3. 82 min.

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