Films make still photos come to life
At a time when digital video, interactive media, and other high-tech innovations fill the news, it's refreshing to know that some dedicated artists are loyal to old-fashioned methods, filling screens with the richly detailed images and finely tuned colors that only film currently can provide.
Lewis Klahr, one of the most inventive filmmakers of his generation, goes even further by using conspicuously low-tech methods. While some of his works have conventional live-action photography, most are made of book and magazine pictures brought to life via stop-motion animation.
Klahr's newest series, "Engram Sepals," shows why he has become one of today's most acclaimed avant-garde filmmakers. The title gives a clue to its mood: An engram is a unit of memory and a sepal is the part of a flower stem that holds the petals in place, so the movie can be viewed as Klahr's effort to memorialize bits of personal and cultural history that might otherwise be scattered by the winds of time.
Like the rest of the film, though, this shouldn't be taken too literally. Its eight sections are dreamlike rather than literal, and while gusts of nostalgia sweep across its surrealistic scenes, they're energized by the intuitive insights of cutting-edge creativity rather than the easy emotionalism of so much mass-produced pop culture.
Not that Klahr is an enemy of pop culture, which is precisely where he finds most of the pictures, words, and music that he recycles so imaginatively.
Some portions of "Engram Sepals" are more compelling than others, and moviegoers should note that certain segments deal with sexuality in ways that are as explicit as they are surrealistic. But the growing audience for offbeat cinema will find Klahr's work as exciting and original as one could wish.
*'Engram Sepals' will be shown May 22 at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater in New York. Later showings will follow, including at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, Calif., and the University of Colorado at Boulder, with dates to be determined.
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