Once a month, the Beverly Lounge – the relaxed and unclassifiable corner bar and restaurant in Midtown Kingston – hosts a special event. For instance, Jonathan Richmond performed there to a sold-out crowd, and Jon Beacham, a resident of the Shirt Factory who owns his own letterpress, has curated screenings of experimental films. This Saturday, September 23, Beverly bartender Drew Piraino will follow up, hosting a showing of short 16mm films by San Francisco-based filmmaker Paul Clipson, titled “Events in Shadow.”
Clipson, who works as a projectionist at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art – he also makes video installations and drawings – has shown his Super 8 and 16mm films at festivals and sound events throughout the world, including the International Film Festival Rotterdam, the New York Film Festival and the Cinémathèque Française. Inspired by musicians such as Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Lawrence English, Grouper and King Midas Sound & Fennesz, he also screens his films in collaboration with live musical performances.
Works by those musicians (which tend toward the meditative and droning) as well as others form the soundtracks for the dozen-or-so films that Clipson will show at the Beverly over the course of an hour-and-a-half. Piraino has known Clipson since the 1990s, when they met through a bunch of musicians with whom the filmmaker was collaborating. One was Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, with whom Piraino still plays bass and synthesizer; Piraino has released cassettes of music by the New York-based Cantu-Ledesma on his Psychic Troubles label.
Clipson works exclusively in film, which imbues his images of nature, urban structures and streets and the human figure with raw immediacy. His layering of images, which shift in speed, perspective and content, though always adhering to a montagelike logic, collapses the limitations of time and space. The movement of images without an overlay of narrative reflect on the nature of film itself. “It is self-referential,” Clipson acknowledged. “My films are about film and filmmaking, which is a large part of the context.”
The seven-minute Feeler, for example, compiled of material shot in New York, LA, Hong Kong, Brisbane, Krakow, Sidney, Napa, Oakland and San Francisco, shows, among other elements, a closeup of a woman’s face, eyes closed, then shifts to repeated staccato views of red sunsets, speeding black-and-white overhead wires, glimpses of clouds, closeups of skin, shifting coastal views, a scan of a tilted boat, outstretched hands, flowers, a blown-up leaf, stars, falling figures and the steel struts of what looks like a bridge. It’s a kind of road trip of the soul – a compendium of meditations, travel and memory that induces a dreamlike state.
Music is more than just a soundtrack; it’s also Clipson’s muse and deeply informs his work. Although he has been making movies since he was a teenager, he got serious around 2002 after he met Cantu-Ledesma and was asked by Cantu-Ledesma to project his films during the musician’s band’s upcoming show. Clipson put his Super 8 images on a reel lasting 30 and 40 minutes, not knowing what the band would be playing, and was “thunderstruck” at the experience that resulted. “There was never that interplay to make the music fit the film, and that’s how I’ve worked ever since,” he said. “How the music and images mix together is kind of exciting. There’s a lot of internal rhythms in the images. It’s like an osmosis. I’m intuiting the method and process of what the musicians do, creating an architecture of imagery that in turn has a percussive and propulsive property.”
Clipson’s intuitive process starts with the shooting. “I go out and film a lot, using all kinds of different approaches,” he said. “A roll of film is three minutes. I might shoot a second. It’s usually fragmentary, since this camera has a windup that only runs for 27 seconds. For a long shot, I tend to fragment the image.” His use of a zoom lens speeds up some of the footage.
Each day is different, depending on the way that he’s feeling and the combinations of subjects that he encounters. “I might start to look at nature in the city without thinking about it, such as puddles in the rain. The reflections might suddenly strike me as interesting. I might see a figure or building in the reflection, and suddenly I’m just going to focus on that for a few minutes or hours, or I go back a few times. Then, when I go to another thing, I might have that tug with reflections when I start looking at nature and see commonality between the urban and natural setting. When I put a figure into an environment, a story just follows. With very little, you can suggest a lot.”
A lot of the editing happens when he shoots. “I film as if I’m performing. If I’m filming a river, I start to intuitively respond to a kind of internal rhythm of how I see things in nature, such as the flickering reflections on the surface – which are a kind of animation, almost like a sound.”
People tell him that his film is about, say, global warming, “but I wasn’t thinking about that. The subject could be there, however, because we’re all thinking and dreaming about it. I’m more interested in the latent potential meaning, rather than a specific idea. I like that ambiguity: Just as the music doesn’t specify, rather it creates an environment you respond emotionally to.”
Spontaneity is built into his process. “I like a poetic rhyming with a sense of chance, like a skipping stone that changes the trajectory but continues the thread.” He’ll shift from black-and-white to color and back again, and a lot of the expressiveness “has to do with subtleties of movement.”
Film is expensive, but Clipson is hooked on the medium. “It’s very beautiful, and I’ve never gotten over it, in a way. It’s like a first love,” he said. “I’ve become really sensitive and appreciative of its tactile quality, and all of its problems are of interest to me.” The difficulties of working with film “create a sense of performance, of danger and the possibility of loss” – should the film not be loaded in the camera correctly or the light meter be off, for example. The digital medium “is extremely helpful and convenient, but as a filmmaker I don’t find it more worthy than the danger of shooting with film. If something is not working, you have to deal with it, and there’s a charge if the images come out. Somehow you survived something, which keeps it alive.”
Being present to project his films is also important to his art. “Films are very fragile. They can scratch and jump. There’s a real danger I could damage the film, which creates more of a visceral potential for the audience.” The projection becomes a kind of performance, which also has the perq of enabling him to travel and visit various places around the world. “This brings it back, the same way someone is playing a guitar or synthesizer onstage,” said Clipson. “The actual film should be there, too – not just a representation.”
In November, Clipson’s headed to the Netherlands for a festival, and of course he’ll be toting his camera and film. “I want to have that record of the unusualness of finding yourself in a place you’re unfamiliar with,” he said. Conversely, “That discovery of the unknown could be outside your window. Anything can look abstract.”
In October, the Beverly will host a silent horror-film screening with live music by Matthew Cullen and Jeff Mercel, members of Ultraam, a Kingston band that describes its music as “free-improvising, psychedelic, noise-rock, spazz-jazz.” In November there will be a BSP-sponsored performance by Eleanor Friedburger of the Fiery Furnaces.
The Beverly is open Tuesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to midnight. A full menu is available from 5 to 10 p.m. (11 p.m. on weekends), and $3 draft beer and $5 margaritas and whiskey sours are served during Happy Hour from 5 to 7 p.m.