2016. John Porter's CineScenes: Documentary Portraits of Alternative Film Scenes - Toronto and Beyond - 1978-2015

review of

John Porter's CineScenes:

Documentary Portraits of Alternative Film Scenes

Toronto and Beyond


by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - March 5, 2016

full review: CineScenesSeen: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/423389-cinescenesseen

truncated review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1570845285



I probably 1st met John Porter in Toronto on Wednesday, April 23, 1986 when I was in the midst of my "6 Fingers Crossed Country T.Ore/Tour" at the Rivoli Club. One of the things I did that nite was lay on my upper back & do bicycle exercises w/ my naked lower body while gently nudging the screen onto wch was being projected the peep show movie entitled "Balling Tim Ore is Best" that I'd made collaboratively w/ Dick Hertz. B/c of Toronto's censorship laws of the time, the Rivoli was taking the risk of being shut down by providing me the venue to do this.

In order to try to thwart the censorship authorities, the doors had been locked & my collaborator Gordon W. Zealot, who was playing a Nol, North Indian folk drum, was burning incense to produce what at least one audience member described 9 yrs later as 'suffocatingly dense smoke' to try to make immediate perception of what was happening difficult for any new person entering.

Since I was scheduled to present at the Funnel the next nite & since John was connected w/ that venue he somewhat worriedly asked me to not kick the screen w/ my feet in order to prevent damage. Note that he did NOT say anything about me being naked or showing my XXX porn parody - this even tho the Funnel, too, was taking a risk of being shut down by the censor authorities for presenting me.

These folks & their allies had been involved w/ anti-censorship struggles since at least 4 yrs before. I'm glad to've contributed my bit to freedom of expression in that era.

To any person familiar w/ underground/alternative/independent/whatever film scenes, John Porter is likely to be known as one of the numero uno champions of super-8 filmmaking. John shot a foto of me performing at the Funnel & was considerate enuf to send me a print of it. I then used it as the cover image of my A Mere Outline bk wch I then sent him a copy of in turn. This type of friendly barter exchange in support of each other's work is part & parcel of putting emphasis on the personal - a tendency that John & I share.

photo by John Porter of tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE performing at the Funnel, Toronto, April 24, 1986

We crossed paths in Toronto more than a few times after that. If there was an underground screening, John was likely to be there. He shot fotos of my "Official" Project at the Zeroworks Jubilee at 53 Wabash: the "Monastery", a great after-hrs venue connected to a junkyard lot, in 1992 & gave me 4 fotos of that too.

photos by John Porter of tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE at The Monastery, Toronto, August, 1992

On August 18, 1998, etta cetera & I presented at Martin Heath's great Cincecycle venue. Once again, John was there to take fotos & he gave me at least 4 of them. 2 of them can be seen here: http://idioideo.pleintekst.nl/MereOutline1998.html . In John's typical fashion, he captured etta & me projecting our dual filmstrip: "Death Bed Aerobics". Thank you, John, for always being there & for preserving traces of what's important to us both!!

photos by John Porter of tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE etta cetera at Cinecycle, Toronto, August, 1998

It might not've been until October 2005 when I was in Toronto to screen my "Story of a Fructiferous Society" (you can read an analysis of that here: http://www.othercinema.com/otherzine/archives/index.php?issueid=22&article_id=96 ) under the auspices of Pleasure Dome's SoundPlay festival that John & I finally arranged a time when we cd get together & I cd see some of his films. The ever-accommodating Martin Heath enabled this to happen as a private screening at Cinceycle, if I remember correctly, where I also got to see Martin's 35mm collage film.

What a treat that was!! I got to see John's "Firefly" (1980) & "Toy Catalog - Part 1" (1996) - both of wch I made special note of to myself to add to my "Favorite Movies by Other People" list online here: http://idioideo.pleintekst.nl/tENTothers.html .

Nicole Gringas, one the essayists in CineScenes, includes this passage re "Firefly": ""John improvises a performance for the camera, spinning a bright, pinpoint light on a long cord, around himself in a variety of patterns, against a black background. A one-shot film, shot in one hour, at one frame per second. And with one-second time-exposures, the light streaks are multiplied and made more complex by refracting in the lens" " (p 12)

WCH BRINGS US TO THIS BK, eh?! Many hundreds of filmmakers must've had similar positive experiences w/ John over the decades & I reckon we're all glad to see this be released. Heck-a-Goshen! I even pd $38.77 to get a copy, glad to be able to give John something back, glad to support the bk's publication! Delighted to be able to get a copy!

Reading thru CineScenes is like looking at a high school yrbk for a school one actually wanted to go to, a school where one actually had plenty of friends, where one wasn't necessarily an outcast. In fact, in Tess Takahashi's interview w/ John Porter in CineScenes, John says that he 'got his start' thusly: "In high school I was involved in amateur theatre and took photographs for the school yearbook. I also constructed photographic series of my friends acting out scenarios. I would then make a little book of these photos in sequence. It was very filmic." (p 17)

Clint Enns, the editor, 's introduction starts off w/ this: "John Porter and I first met in 2010 at the Winnipeg Cinemateque, where he showed up to a screening of his work dressed as a super 8 sheriff, complete with kid's cowboy hat, plastic badge, one of his many super 8 shirts, and two toy cap guns in holsters. We all thought he was a madman given that we didn't know he was wearing his costume for Shootout with Rebecca (1983), a film/live performance in which John duels it out with his on-screen nemesis." (p 1)

Now that "We all thought he was a madman" thing is a common trope, a negative cliché that I've certainly run across many times before. Why think that someone's a "madman" b/c they're doing something different? Why not immediately deduce that they're a creative person instead? I think of a super-8 movie that Catherine Pancake made in wch she shot footage of artists that she's friends w/ & of clients of hers who hear voices. Some of the artists, like Laure Drogoul, were flagrantly wacky, not afraid to be themselves. The people who hear voices, on the other hand, were clearly desperately trying to appear as normal as possible. Hearing voices was not a creative hoot for them, it was a torment. If I'd seen John so dressed I wd've immediately been excited & interested, hoping that he was going to live up to the novelty, that he was going to do something creative & curious about what that might be - & it seems that I wd've been happily rewarded.

[Enns has since informed me in a Facebook communication that "madman" was intended as a compliment]

Enns goes on: "The photos in this book were selected for their documentary value, with attention paid in each case to the aesthetic quality of the photo, the historical importance of the event, the filmmakers present, and the technologies on display. It is worth stating that John and I did not make a conscious effort to exclude any filmmakers; however, in view of the limited space of the book, I am positive that many great filmmakers (local and otherwise) will have been left out." (p 1) Alas, yes, that's the case: Owen O'Toole & his projection performance group "Wet Gate", eg, are missing. Check them out here: www.wetgate.net/statement.html .

"Given that both John and I are both anti-hierarchical, it is not the intention of this book to develop or promote a canon, but we would both be ecstatic if this project brought some attention to any of the filmmakers documented. Following the philosophy of Helen Hill we believe that a filmmaker is anyone who makes a film, hence emerging filmmakers are presented here alongside established filmmakers. With that said, the subjects presented in this book inevitably reflect John's personal and political interests, which include his devotion towards super-8, bicycles, and DIY/alternative modes of filmmaking, in addition to his support of community building and his opposition to censorship." - p 1

I'm solidly behind the sentiments expressed in this last-quoted paragraph. HOWEVER, it shd be noted that the cover of the bk shows 'Superstar Ondine' presenting Andy Warhol's "Chelsea Girls" to a packed house - in other words, a canon is immediately reinforced. Furthermore, George Kuchar is referenced in 3 of the introductory pages & shows in 3 photographs on a 2 pp spread. 2 of these 3 fotos are from the same event. That might be interpreted as redundant & as reinforcing a canon. Now, I love George Kuchar's work & think that he's deserving of the attn & that he, too, was a community builder. Still. Same goes for Barbara Hammer, she's in there quite alot & has probably been canonized more than most.

That sd, there are many people who're probably mostly known to Torontonians whose images appear again & again & this is b/c they were 'omnipresent'. Martin Heath is an example - as are Dot Tuer, Kate MacKay, Chris Kennedy, & Petra Chevrier, etc, etc.. "The stand-out among them is Martin Heath, who provides a "mobile cinema-for-hire" service in Toronto and operates Cine-Cycle, the world's only underground cinema and bicycle repair shop capable of projecting 35mm, 16mm, 9.5mm, 8mm, and super-8 film." (p 2)

& I have to agree, Martin really is a "stand-out". I've known him since at least 1982 when he participated in the 4th International Neoist Festival in Montréal by having an espresso maker in the back of his Mercedes truck w/ wch he provided free espresso to all comers for our outdoor events. He even had a Scopitone (but not in the back of the truck), a 16mm jukebox, wch he proposed loading w/ my 16mm films & taking on tour. I wish we'd done that!

Martin is yet-another person cut from the same socio-political mold as John insofar as they're both very generous people who're entirely behind the community building values of getting the means-of-production into the hands of anyone who feels the urge to create at the level of the personal rather than at the level of big business. In 1998 when etta & I projected out filmstrips at CineCycle, Martin was so delighted that anyone was working w/ filmstrips so long after their 'obsolescence' that he gave me a beautiful half-frame camera & a plethora of great lenses to go along w/ it. He even later helped me get it repaired. I made quite a few filmstrips w/ that including "Shuffle Mode" wch is online on my onesownthoughts YouTube channel here: https://youtu.be/epWSMqrMiY4 . Thank you very much Martin.

In Scott MacDonald's article he quotes Bruce Baillie talking about the founding of Canyon Cinema: "We got an army surplus screen and hung it up real nice in the backyard of this house we were renting." (p 7) That was 1960. 56 yrs later, Canyon still exists ( http://canyoncinema.com/ ) but it's no longer in a rented house's backyard. I find such humble beginnings quite cheering. My own backyard cinema, B.Y.O.C., is also beginning very humbly & I admit that I don't expect it to grow up to where Canyon Cinema is at today - but it doesn't 'have' to in order to be 'valid'. Here's the link for its nascent webpage: http://idioideo.pleintekst.nl/BYOC.html & here's the link for the movie of its 1st event: https://youtu.be/jSW-vLZwLOQ . MacDonald continues:

"This seems the very spirit of the microcinema. Indeed, when Rebecca Barton and David Sherman established their break-through microcinema Total Mobile Home in 1994-they hosted filmmakers and film screenings in their home in San Francisco, once a week from 1994 until 1997-they had Baillie's early Canyon Cinema in mind. During Total Mobile Home's first year Barton and Sherman organized a series of morning salons with Baillie where the connections between what they were doing and what Baillie had done were discussed."

A point of possible interest about the above being that, as I recall, Sherman worked for Canyon Cinema at the time - making the connection even closer than MacDonald suggests. Additionally, I quote from an email rc'vd from Owen O'Toole regarding the word "microcinema": "i would just like occasional credit for the term coming out of my mouth. Rebecca tricked me when she asked for the word as a wedding present as we were crossing the street. i know it's kind of silly. ("microcinema", actually subconscious influence of Mike Film Distribution Form)." That's awkward, eh? Barten & Sherman get credit for something that Owen O'Toole probably deserves more credit for (even I have previously given them credit), Owen's not in John's excellent bk.

SO, let me hereby promote Owen O'Toole. Back around 1986 or so he instigated a super-8 project called the "Filmers Almanac". He requested that every super-8 filmmaker he cd find pick a day in 1988 to shoot a single roll of film on so that he cd then screen those films as a massive collaboration. That was one of the best community-building film projects I've ever seen. Owen traveled w/ the films & projected 1 & sometimes 2 of them at a time w/ one of the projectors on a "Lazy Susan" so that he cd easily pan the projection. He then improvised a soundtrack using audio cassettes provided by the contributors. It. Was. Absolutely. Wonderful. Owen gave me 2 different VHS versions of these performances. I put a short excerpt from one online that features my film in it: https://youtu.be/jkUA8xapP_l .

But Owen's story doesn't stop there. He was a staunch proponent & practitioner of free-form radio - something akin in spirit to the type of cinema that Porter & O'Toole & I embrace. Track 2 on https://archive.org/details/Radio1985 is a sample collaboration that Owen & his fellow Tufts DJ Tim Clifford & I did together. He's also the publisher of Wafer Face Records wch released some of his radio experiments as well as 2 LPs by yrs truly. Let's NOT canonize Sherman & Barten [correct spelling] & neglect O'Toole who's done considerably more than most as a participant in the underground culture that Porter's bk is about.

Nicole Gringas informs us that John's earliest film dates back to 1968! 48 yrs ago! How many filmmakers alive today can claim such longevity! In Tess Takahashi's interview Porter elaborates: "I rented a super-8 camera from Janet Good" [..] "wrote a little scenario, and got my friends together with costumes and props near our street. As soon as I started shooting I realized, this is what I want to do, this is for me." (p 17) Gringas quotes Porter:

"I've always been a performer. I was an actor before I started photography or filmmaking, but I hated memorizing lines. I've decided that film itself, being a theatrical medium, is a performance medium. I always considered the presentation of my films a performance. I like to be there in person to project the originals, and talk during them like live narration." - p 11

One term for a person who gives live narration during a screening is "explicator". I like this term, I sometimes act as an Explicator. As I understand it, in the early days of motion pictures an Explicator was sometimes felt to be needed to explain what was going on to audiences not yet accustomed to the 'language' of movies. A part of the fun of personal or micro- cinema is having the option of having the filmmaker there in person to tell relevant anecdotes that make the experience deeper. I use the concept of the Explicator as part of the soundtrack for one version of my only super-8 feature: "Satanic Liposuction, Neoasm?!, & YOU!!"

Porter made a film called "Amusement Park" (1978-1979) in wch "each frame was exposed for two minutes and the shooting extended over eight hours." (p 14) That sounds as amazing as "Firefly". There's a whole tradition of small-gauge films shot in colorfully lit entertainment spots. It wd be interesting to see a whole festival dedicated to the subject. I made a movie called "Bemusement Park" that's on Vimeo here: https://vimeo.com/135793724 .

Porter mentions being inspired by "a projection by Anne B. Walters" in his "Camera Dances". He's got me interested but I don't think I found the right person online. It makes me think of a performance that I saw at UMBC, probably around 1979, done by a dancer/filmmaker duo in wch the dancer danced w/ a filming 16mm camera that was aimed at the audience & environs while a previously shot 16mm film done under similar circumstances was projected. It was great! I wish I cd remember the couple's name!

Porter tells Takahashi about what followed his teen film: "I didn't make any more films until I got to Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, where I went to study still photography. I was there for five years even though it was only a three-year program, because I kept failing. I wasn't interested in the academics, the tests, and the exams. I just wanted to make films." (p 17) A history of filmmakers & other creative people who either failed schooling or never went thru it in the 1st place wd be a fascinating one for me. It wd include John Waters & Werner Herzog, pretty good company to be in. They've both sd very similar things to Porter about 'just wanting to make films'.

Porter stopped shooting 35mm stills once he switched to using his cellphone. He also started shooting videos w/ it & posting them to YouTube. I've long since done the same thing. The original value of shooting super-8 was its cheapness relative to 16mm. Alas, tho, super-8 has ceased to be a particularly cheap or easy medium. The film is hard to get & hard to get processed. It's no longer cheap. Realistically, VHS replaced super-8 as the cheapest medium 35 yrs ago. One cd easily buy a tape that cd record for 120 minutes at Standard Play for $2. To make a movie that long on super-8 might cost thousands unless you have bulk stock & process it yrself.

To film purists, tho, there's no comparison, the projected look of film is considered by such folks to be superior. Personally, I've never ultimately agreed. For one thing, it's cheap & easy to make VHS copies & to send them out to friends. I've made some of my finest movies in VHS. Even w/ VHS vanishing, it's still possible to buy the tapes for $2 apiece (or less in Thrift stores) & VHS decks for $10 or so in thrift stores. The problem at this point is getting a VHS camcorder. I'm sure it's still possible.

Anyway, these days, people are addicted to 'high-definition'. Whatever. I use my cellphone too AND a GoPro but I don't think everything that's made in 1080p30 is good just b/c it's HD. A stupid static 16/9 landscape shot in HD is still a stupid static landscape shot even if there's alotof detail. Switching to shooting w/ a cellphone limits all sorts of possibilities & posting to YouTube means having yr movie stuck next to ads that yr movie is the lure for. Still, it's the most practical thing going these days for quickly reaching a broad international (v)audience.

I make a movie at home in Pittsburgh & know that somebody in Belarus will check it out toute de suite. That wasn't even as easy w/ VHS. I use Vimeo for shorter movies but am too poor to pay for the ability to post longer ones. Some things I upload to the Internet Archive. How long any of this is going to last is open to question. I make movies for personal contact but I also make them for posterity. I don't consider what I do to be throwaway regardless of whether it's no or low budget. By the way, low budget means under $100 NOT under $1,000,000!

Dot Tuer writes: "Vernacular in conception and matter-of-fact in realization, Porter's documentary photographs constitute a testimonial to his unwavering faith in a homespun cinema and its community of makers." (p 22) Exactly. Porter's documentary fotos are very straightforward. Unlike films like "Firefly" & "Amusement Park" there's no playing w/ light, no experimenting w/ long exposures. Most of the subjects are photographed from the front & sufficiently lit for details to show. There's no 'atmospheric' lighting.

What stands out to me the most about them is not their style but the sheer dedication of sense of purpose that their quantity represents. Porter set out to document the people in underground film scenes, esp those in Toronto, & he did it, & did it, & did it again. It's unlikely that such a document will ever exist again.

Back to Tuer & Porter in 1990: "When asked how he would respond to the threat of super 8's obsolescence, which was being phased out at the time, he replied that he was planning to work with flip books and pen and paper." (p 23) Not a bad idea from my perspective. I've always been inspired by the mediums represented in Werner Nekes's 1986 film "Film Before Film" ( https://youtu.be.com/s0KADBMXY-8 ), things like zoetropes still strike me as mediums full of untapped potential - just as filmstrips have.

Yes indeedy, I'm happy to leave a trail of myself in this bk.. but I have the feeling of being a sortof anti-censorship poster child. The picture shows me dancing w/ no pants on in front of a tv w/ an image on it. My hair is cut to make 12 moustaches on my head, I'm wearing a sweatshirt that has the chest cut open so that 6 latex breasts show. These breasts were modeled by someone who made things for a "Planet of the Apes" movie, they're modeled on my friend Eugenie Vincent's breasts & were worn by her for a jeans ad that was rejected as too sexploitative or some such. She gave them to me. I'm wearing ankle bells & a plastic ball-&-chain w/ the word "WORK" painted on the ball. The foto's a pretty good representation of one aspect of what my performances were like on that 1986 tour.

On the same page as my foto there's one of "Inspectors from the Ontario Censor Board visiting The Funnel, 507 King St. E., Toronto, for a last minute preview of a film - January 24, 1981. (Image redacted.)" (p 38) On the facing page are 2 fotos of Ontario Film and Video Appreciation Society events relating to a court case they brought against the Ontario Censor Board. In other words, the image of my exposed cock is being used to show what freedom of expression Ontario residents were fighting for. That's great.

However, from 1986 to 2005 I gave 8 screenings in Toronto (Hey, folks! Will I ever be invited back?!) & they had a huge variety of content. I'm glad this picture was chosen but I hope that someday the ones that John took at CineCycle in 1998 or the ones he took at Zerowork Jubilee in 1992 will get more circulation too. Come to think of it, one of the pictures used in my "Meanderthals in Motion (Pictures)" article in Incite! 4 IS of me in Toronto in 1992 & was probably taken by John although I mistakenly DIDN'T credit him (sorry about that!). You can see that here: incite-online.net/tENT4.html .

One of my favorite fotos in CineScenes is one of "Midi Onodera labelling envelopes while optical printing at The Funnel" (p 41). Not only does she not have a deadpan expression, unlike most of the people presented, but she's also multi-tasking - the significance of wch will be recognized by any DIY person who's tried to do as many things as possible at once b/c there are too many hats to wear to be so leisurely as to only do one.

Of course, I'm happy in particular to see my friends. There's one of the "First meeting of "Token and Taboo" group at John Porter's house" that includes William Davenport, Sherri Higgins, John, & Linda Feesey". Hi kids! Then there's ever-active Craig Baldwin & some Pittsburgh folks in a living rm I've spent a fair amt of time in on p 61. On p 62 there's Steve Anker, one of the only presenters to support my work on multiple occasions.

Then there're people like M.M. Serra of the NYC based Film-Makers' Cooperative, a place I rented films from way back when in 1978 when I 1st curated a screening. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean there's a picture of people in the London Film-Makers' Co-op. I screened at one of their places in 1988.

Abigail Child's on 76, Peggy Ahwesh's on 77. Kenneth Anger's one of the canonized who doesn't get excessively canonized treatment, only a single foto on p 80 (altho he gets the whole page). Even a young student Brett Kashmere, now the editor of Incite!, is shown in a group foto on p 86.

CineScenes may open the door for more research. Page 87 has 2 fotos taken at the "Film Farm", wch existed at least from 1994-2004. I'd like to know more. I'm reminded of a traveling 16mm series originating w/ Richard Ellsberry of Baltimore in the late 1970s called "Show Dogs", a pun off of "Chaud", French for "Hot". I remember one screening that was out in the country at a house connected to a motorcycle club called "The Dirt That Moves", my all-time favorite MC name.

Then there's the sadness of a 3 foto spread of a very friendly looking Helen Hill, who I never knew, who the reader is informed was killed in a home invasion gone wrong.

There're 2 fotos from the "First annual Parkdale Rehab Film and Video Showcase" on p 93 wch looks like a positive thing.

Martin Heath pops up pretty often. In the case of p 95 he's in the company of Janet Attard & Brian Frye, 2 people I've had the pleasure of meeting. On p 101 there's a picture of Joost Rekveld from Rotterdam in Toronto on February 19, 2000. Joost & I had performed together only a wk before in Windsor, Ontario. On the bottom of the same page there's a picture of Luis A. Recoder who does interesting work w/ projection installations. Luis has astounded me by seeing screenings of mine in 3 or 4 cities.

On the bottom of p 105 there's a picture of John Henry Nyenhuis & Istvan Kantor together. I've done quite alot w/ both these guys. John Henry & I've played together in Brighton, München, Toronto, & Berlin! Istvan & I are coconspirators in the (non-)cause of neoism. We've spent time together in Baltimore, Montréal, Toronto, New York, London, Vac, Budapest, Debrecen, & Windsor. Such friendships are rare.

Even Bruce LaBruce is in here. I 1st ran across his work when I witnessed his "Super 8 & 1/2" in Berlin in 1994 at Eiszeit Kino. It wasn't an in-person appearance & the theater was almost empty. That's often a sign of quality. I liked it very much.

There's a foto of John Kneller's front porch set up for a screening for trick-or-treaters. That looks like it was fun. There's a foto of Byron Black performing w/ a pumpkin. I had some correspondence w/ Byron when he was living in Thailand (was it?). There's a foto of a screening on the parkinglot behind CineCycle, I published a super-8 move of Martin's of him doing things there.

Once we get into the color cell-phone pictures I found Dirk DeBruyn at the bottom right of page 123. I met Dirk in 2000 In Melbourne, Australia. He made one of my favorite movies, "Rote Movie". He was part of a direct-on-film filmmakers group called "Direct Action". We did some things together.

On page 132 we're back to the older black & white fotos - in this case of john Porter shoulder-holding a super-8 projector so that he cd "film busk" "onto his floating screen on the pond at Harbourfront Center". That looks exciting!

Brian Enns, the editor of CineScenes is described on p 133 by "His work primarily deals with moving images created with broken and/or outdated technologies." I can relate!

This bk belongs in every serious collection on independent film of the last 40 yrs. There were only 500 printed so if you're the librarian of a museum collection make sure to get one before they're all gone. It's essential.




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