Jun 6, 2008

Elaine Summers: films, videos & intermedia

Elaine Summers, ca. 1973 [uncredited photo in TDR (Dec. 1980), p. 61.]

On June 5th, Andrew Lampert (Anthology Film Archives) and I met with the filmmaker, intermedia artist, choreographer, kineticist, and animating spirit Elaine Summers in her SoHo apartment. Her collaborators Taketo Shimada and Davidson Gigliotti were there. (Gabriella Hiatt, was to be there. She's been doing a lot of work with Elaine's film and video archive. In fact, she brought Elaine to the Judson Memorial Church dinner at Orphans 6.)

Below are snapshots of Elaine and Andy at her makeshift film inspection bench and of the storage room where boxes and boxes of 16mm, Super 8, and 8mm film are being unfurled, along with 3/4", 1" and Quad videotapes.

Most of this material is from Elaine Summers Dance & Film Company productions over the past 40 years. There is much more film than video, although most of the video is original (some shot by Nam June Paik and his cohorts).

Some are complete "single-projection film works" (and their elements). Some are elements originally used with live dance performances ('intermedia' they began calling it in the 1960s). And some are raw documentation of events, mostly in New York. All the material I've seen has been very interesting and certainly worthy of preservation.

The Jerome Robbins Dance Division at the New York Public Library has some of the Summers material already, and is acquiring more.

In particular, there is a 20-min. film entitled ANOTHER PILGRIM (1968) that Gabriella brought to my attention during her coursework. I'm talking to Elaine about making it an Orphans 7 piece. She recently located two cans of original 16mm material on this film, and we think the rest should be in these boxes. Elaine had me give those cans to Brent Phillips at the NYU Fales Library (home to the Judson Memorial Church Collection), who was looking for them.

We are hoping to sic a NYU MIAP student or two on this great collection. A bonus: NYPL's Dance Division media preservationists include Tanisha Jones, graduate of the first MIAP class.

Double bonus: The collection sits just 3 blocks from MIAP HQ at 665 Broadway.

Thanks to a 2006 grant from the NYWiFT's Women's Film Preservation Fund, two films by Elaine Summers have recently been preserved: Judson Fragments (1970) and Windows in the Kitchen (1980). The latter film I saw quite by chance, when Elaine and friends came to test-screen the new print in the Maya Deren Theater at Anthology Film Archives -- where my class had just been meeting. Windows is a beautiful, short 16mm film, with a beautiful, minimalist music track.

At that same serendipitous screening, I got to see another dance film. In black-and-white, we see a medium close-up of a dancer/walker's boots, moving in circles. Before long it was clear that the location of the shoot was the fountain in Washington Square Park (between Judson Church and the Arch). Had I seen this remarkable piece a few months earlier, I would've certainly added to the Orphans 6 lineup of films shot in Washington Square in the 1960s (Dan Drasin's Sunday, 1961; NYU surveillance footage, '68; Bob Parent's raw footage from the mid-60s).