Category Archives: Movies

Dystopian Sci-Fi: World on a Wire

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s recently restored 1973 film World on a Wire is a paranoid dystopian epic. The only science fiction film Fassbinder ever made, World on a Wire was filmed in 16mm for German television, and largely forgotten. Thanks to the Fassbinder Foundation, we can finally view this lost classic that predates Blade Runner by 9 years.

And World on a Wire is recommended viewing for Philip K. Dick fans. A scientist named Stiller who runs a virtual world discovers a corporate conspiracy to use the simulation for financial gain. People disappear or are forgotten. Newspaper articles mysteriously change. And soon, much more troubling questions emerge about the nature of existence.

This lo-fi sci-fi film is refreshingly free of CGI and special effects. The use of mirrors and reflections in the cinematography is superb, and the electronic incidental music is wild. Ed Halter’s article for Criterion provides an excellent overview of the film. The special features include an excellent interview with Fassbinder scholar Gerd Gemünden. Available on DVD or on Blu-ray.

Learning from films: Stalker

 
The new Geoff Dyer book Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room, is a light take on a heavy film — Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. In a notable passage, Dyer talks about the time span in our life that we’re receptive to forming our personal favorite works of art. The time in our late teens and twenties when certain films, books, and music become our lifelong favorites. For me, some of these films were Brazil, Blade Runner, and Blue Velvet. At a certain point, this openness may not come naturally anymore. Those of you who are over 40 know what I’m talking about. I want to stay open to that feeling.

I’ve been following author and free-jazz aficionado Jeff Jackson’s Destination Out for a long time, and I’m also connected to him on Goodreads where he gave Zona a favorable review. I really enjoyed Dyer’s photography book, The Ongoing Moment, so I picked up a copy of Zona, and rented Tarkovsky’s Stalker.

If we’re lucky, every once in a while we encounter a work of art that changes our perception of how deeply art can affect us. Something truly exceptional. Stalker is a mind-blowing film. If you’re interested in the strange time warps and dream states that can be encountered in night photography, Stalker is an amazing journey. I’ve never seen a film that captures the state of hyper-awareness of exploring abandoned places so well. The intense attention to every little sound and texture. And the location in Stalker takes on a life of its own.

So do you remember the time period in your life when you were most receptive to artistic input? When a 2 1/2 hour subtitled movie was something to look forward to? If you’re open to that feeling, watch Stalker and let me know what you think.

Stalker is on DVD at Netflix but not available streaming. The DVD is $16-24 at Amazon, or perhaps you’re lucky enough to have a good local video rental store.

If you’re not familiar with the film at all, I encourage you not to look up Stalker online. Don’t look at YouTube or IMDB. Just track down the DVD and set aside the time to watch. If you enjoy the film, Dyer’s book is a lot of fun. If enough people who live in the San Francisco Bay Area are interested in discussing the film and the book, I will schedule a meetup at a bar in April to compare notes. Until then, enjoy your trip to the Zone.

Deep Focus, Steve Erickson, Junkyard Jets, Coen Bros and Heavy Metal

Computer replaces human brain
Spending too much time on the computer lately? Here are some recent book recommendations:


The Deep Focus series is a collection of pocket-sized books that are a love letter to a quirky film. Josh Wilker’s homage to The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training is one of the most insightful books I’ve read about growing up in the 1970′s. If you had feathered hair, played Little League, and remember Carter vs. Reagan, this book is for you.


The first book in the Deep Focus series is Jonathan Lethem’s wide ranging analysis of the classic John Carpenter film They Live. I really enjoyed watching the film again after reading the book. You can watch They Live on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Lethem also has a forthcoming book in the 33 1/3 music series on Talking Heads’ Fear of Music.


A friend sent me a review copy of Steve Erickson’s forthcoming book These Dreams of You. I’ve been a fan of Erickson’s work since the late 80′s when the same friend turned me on to Days Between Stations. Thomas Pynchon wrote a blurb for this brilliant first novel that holds true for much of Erickson’s work:

Steve Erickson has that rare and luminous gift for reporting back from the nocturnal side of reality, along with an engagingly romantic attitude and the fierce imaginative energy of a born storyteller.

These Dreams of You follows an L.A. family’s adoption of an Ethiopian girl just after the election of Barack Obama. Erickson weaves his interest in music, politics, and race into the family’s search for their daughter’s history. There are some amazing episodes in These Dreams of You, but overall it’s not as cohesive as some of his other work. Of course any kind of follow up to Erickson’s brilliant ode to cinema Zeroville would be tough.

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While I was in Tucson, I picked up a copy of the book Junkyard Jets at the Pima Air & Space Museum. Junkyard Jets is a look inside the airplane storage and scrapping industry. If you’re a junkyard fan, you need this book!


When I meet someone for the first time, and the conversation turns to movies, I always ask “What is your favorite Coen Brothers film?” I picked up this Virgin film series book used and was pleasantly surprised by the interesting analysis of their first 10 films, and also the information on the critical reception.

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Two dudes gettin’ drunk and stoned and playing with as many amps as we possibly can and basically just playing Melvins and Earth riffs but trying to play them slower than those bands played them. — Sunn O)))

I enjoyed watching the heavy rock documentary film Such Hawks Such Hounds. The full documentary is available above on YouTube, or the DVD is available directly from the filmmakers.

Pier 24 Photography Exhibit Time-Lapse

This time-lapse documents a 2-hour visit to Pier 24 in San Francisco to see the Here exhibit that features over 700 photographs of the Bay Area. Visiting Pier 24 is free, but you need to make an appointment online a few weeks in advance.

Time-lapse technical details: Still photography is allowed inside Pier 24, you just can’t use a flash. I asked permission before making this time-lapse. I used the string from a sweatshirt to hang a GoPro HD camera around my neck (Flavor Flav style). The camera took a photo every 5 seconds. The time-lapse was assembled at 6fps in Quicktime 7 Pro. Titles and music were added in iMovie. As the show is Bay Area focused and has suburban themes, I thought music by The Residents would be appropriate.

I hope you enjoy the time-lapse tour, and that you are inspired to book a 2 hour time slot to visit Pier 24!

Update: Thanks to Blake Andrews for spreading the word about my tour of Pier 24.

Power plant accoutrements -- by Joe Reifer

23 epiphanies: Ramblings on artistic influences

Power plant accoutrements -- by Joe Reifer

Power plant accoutrements — by Joe Reifer

My presentation at last week’s Mono Lake Night Photography Festival was about the value of cultivating a diverse set of artistic influences. You are already doing this informally. The idea is to talk or write about your artistic input, as a playground for better understanding how these things are influencing your artistic output.

I had 45 minutes to talk, and spent just under 2 minutes talking about how each of these artists has influenced my night photography. As the presentation was both fast and media intensive, I’ve reproduced the list of artists below for those who attended the conference.

I encourage you to make your own list of influences. This could be a desert island list of your favorite films, photography books, novels, museum exhibits, dance performances — whatever you’re into. Making a list is the first step — the epiphanies are born out of process of articulating why you love this work, and how the work has influenced you. The writing doesn’t have to be lengthy — start with one sentence for the why, and one for the how. Have fun, and feel free to share your list.

  1. Gordon Matta-Clark: Conical Intersect [video on UbuWeb] [photos & bio on artnet]
  2. John Divola: Vandalism Series [photos on divola.com]
  3. Roger Ballen: Outland | Shadow Chamber | Boarding House
  4. John Pfahl: Altered Landscapes
  5. Draw on your image: To be discussed in a future blog post
  6. Gaspar Noe: Enter the Void [Netflix]
  7. Matthew Barney: Cremaster Cycle
  8. Werner Herzog: Of Walking In Ice
  9. Mark Rothko: Rothko’s Rooms [Netflix]
  10. William Vollmann: Imperial
  11. Michelangelo Antonioni: Red Desert [Netflix]
  12. David T. Hanson: Waste Land
  13. Flotation Tanks
  14. Haruki Murakami: A Wild Sheep Chase
  15. Ikeda Carlotta: Butoh Dance
  16. Yasujiro Ozu: Tokyo Story [Netflix]
  17. Master Musicians of Jajouka: Apocalypse Across the Sky | Pipes of Pan
  18. Lotte Reiniger: The Adventures of Prince Achmed [Netflix]
  19. Caspar David Friedrich [friendsofart.net]
  20. John Hind: Our True Intent Is All For Your Delight
  21. Chris Verene: Family | Chris Verene
  22. Jacques Tati: Playtime
  23. Erik Kessels: In Almost Every Picture #9 Black Dog

Note: Book and movie links go to Amazon, and help put a few extra pennies into the epiphany research jar.