How to Write Poetry With Only One Letter – Roger Beebe

Last Light of a Dying Star

Optimus Prime: automaton or automobile?  An ancient (c. 1983) philosophical question, not unlike that of the increasingly complex role of the artist.  Speaking to Roger Beebe the role of artist as cultural mediator comes into focus (pun unavoidable).

Beebe is a professor of Film and Media Studies at the University of Florida.  However, he’s also a very active filmmaker screening in locales as varied as the MoMA, the Sundance Film Festival, the Times Square Jumbotron, and even Antarctica.  However, if you attend his show at C. Emerson Fine Arts on Friday 1/06/12 you’ll notice he’s not the average moviegoers’ average filmmaker.

In fact, watching Beebe’s films you get the feeling that not only is he aware of this, but it may be one of his starting points.  “Because of turning the cinema experience into this multiplex experience you go there and it has this kind of generic quality to it”, he says.  That isn’t to say, though, that he is attempting to turn cinema back to some golden age.

Many may consider Beebe’s work to be part of a tradition of expanded cinema (a term I was glad I could have a UF professor of film explain to me – and tuition-free, nerds!).  Expanded cinema is often taken out of the Muvico and into alternative spaces,  often experimental or made with unconventional equipment and/or techniques.  Really, expanded cinema deserves its own blog post.  Beebe’s approach and tools to film making are as diverse as the places he’s shown them.  His films glow from 16mm film, Super 8, and digital video, often all simultaneously.

“There’s an interesting democracy to this recycling aesthetic and picking up stuff that nobody wants anymore”, he says. “Using 16mm is interestingly democratic in how it has that DIY production method”.  Beebe was specifically referring to the democratic nature of outmoded tools such as 16mm film (actually, a class he teaches is called “16mm film production” – what’s more democratic than teaching someone?).   However, in a way this can also apply to much of the content of  Beebe’s work.  His use of familiar language and imagery as well as actually re-appropriating other films adds a democratic (and DIY) character to his work.

It seems one of his films that will be shown Friday, AAAAA Motion Picture, indirectly touches on this.  The description for this film on Beebe’s website reads:   The Manhattan phone book has 14 pages of companies jockeying to be at the start of the alphabetical listings. Capitalism triumphs over linguistic richness yet again. Our challenge: to learn how to write poetry when there’s only one letter left.  There’s hardly an art form that can be as commercial as film (what would be the art world’s version of Michael Bay? Jeff Koons?)  Regarding AAAAA Motion Picture Beebe says, “I think I was very specifically thinking about the way words and phrases get turned into trademarks and slogans”

He goes on, “Even the neutral phrase ‘it’s the real thing’ – you can’t think of that without thinking of Coca-Cola or the way that Donald Trump tried to trademark ‘You’re Fired’ or Paris Hilton tried to trademark ‘That’s Hot'”  With words and phrases losing meaning by being turned into commodities and visual phrases turning into visual clichés, work like Roger Beebe’s becomes refreshing.

We spoke about his film Last Light of a Dying Star (that uses eight projectors simultaneously).  And though the conversation was specifically about the perception of outer space and space travel, the idea of the artist as a cultural mediator came to the surface, where the role of the artist isn’t to produce a new object but a new experience.   “I think there is a level of desensitization and familiarity.  So, I guess the task of the artist is to de-familiarize that.  To produce the experience anew”

Roger Beebe will be presenting Films for One to Eight Projectors on Friday, 1/06/12 at 7pm

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