Secret Stories: Recent Films From the Avant-Garde

The best of these elusive narratives use images to evoke emotional states but never resolve into linear stories. In Elise Hurwitz's cryptic I Raise My Arm (1993), text and image fragments appear on moving strips of film seen within the image; this seems pretty abstract at first but soon becomes powerfully moving. The film's halting rhythms hover between still photographs and animated movement, as if we're trapped inside a broken film projector where images lose their connections to each other. Janie Geiser's The Secret Story (1996) and Immer Zu (1997) are animations whose wooden figures, cutouts, shadow puppetry, and photographs of miniature sets have none of the compressed feel of much cutout animation but are spatially expansive, poetic, and allusive. Immer Zu centers on the discovery of a punched tape whose coded, glyphlike symbols come to suggest that each of the film's images has a secret and ultimately indecipherable meaning. In A Biography of Lilith (1997) Lynne Sachs ambiguously intercuts fragments of several stories, but there's a feminist point behind the film's discursiveness. Lilith is played by an erotic dancer who also appears as herself, speaking about her own life, while texts about Lilith, an evil woman in Hebrew folklore, are presented in intertitles and read on the sound track, boxing in the images with misogynist myth. On the same program, Ceci n'est pas (1997), an unedited, hand-developed film by Jeanne Liotta that proved a bit too puzzling even for me.

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