It always baffles me when an artist introduces themselves with the least characteristic/enjoyable/understandable work in their oeuvre. Is it so that there is nowhere to go but up with the works to come? Is it to plant the seed of disinterest in me – so I am predisposed to be against whatever I see subsequently? Is it really intended to fill me, the viewer, with dread? It certainly feels like it. The printed stills and their effect on the soundtrack had an equally agitating, fruitless, and inconsequential effect on me. I gleaned nothing from it, other than the beginnings of a headache due to the flashing frames and discordant cacophony. Whatever the reason Scott Stark started with the jarring film (who’s title escapes me, as do many of the rest) he did, I was able to overcome my distaste swift, quick, and in a hurry.
Luckily for him, his second film, titled similarly to An Exercise in Futility (well, similarly in my head at least) was quite entertaining due to its film student-y qualities. It was a study of the Bolex as much as a study of Stark himself, and his arduous, repetitive runs up that San Francisco hill. Unintentional elements made the film, such as the emergence of a VW Westy at the top of the hill – obviously as unsure about its abrupt introduction of the camera as the camera was of it. The greatest amusement came on run #14, when Stark betrayed to us his own disinterest and annoyance at having to run up the hill yet again by the way his arms hung and swung with apathy.
By the third film, cleverly titled Hotel Cartograph, I was fully on his side, appreciating his odd, humorous, yet contemplative way of viewing the world. The double entendre of his title didn’t make sense to me for the first 30 plus seconds. I was taken by the geometric shapes made, and remade by simple readjustments of the camera, and enthralled with the way each seemed to be a symbol in its own right. They looked to me like Chinese calligraphy characters – telling a story destined always to be foreign, one word at a time – as if still reaching for my understanding by speaking so very slowly. When he zoomed out I laughed at the cart wheel visible in the bottom of the shot, firstly because: um…dude…there’s a cart wheel in the bottom of your shot… and then immediately after because I got it. I was on board with almost every move – so quirky and meaningless, yet full of critique and allowing room for humanness to explode. The throwaway chatter of unseen hotel guests, the chance run-in with a chair, Stark’s feet and the impatient elevator door. These elements pushed me to dwell upon our strange, arbitrary interactions with the material world around us, personifying it as something that always is, with or without human validation, something that brainlessly, continuously asserts its purpose even when that purpose is obstructive.
Afterwards, I’ll Walk With God offered a snarky transcendence, combining critique with the heartfelt in a way I highly resonated with. There was an element to this film that dwelled on the beauty to be found in its subject matter – for instance the slowly wavering delicate hues of blue in the middle of the film, or the calm, collected peace exuding from the faces of the flight attendants. The mockery here was more-so of iconic secular imagery and its kinship with the religious that it so desperately tries to ignore, rather than the religion – something I find refreshing and connect with.
Shape Shift took his humor to another, appreciable level of quirkiness. I thoroughly enjoyed the strait faced mockery of interpretive dance (or as he called it: faux yoga), mixed with an interesting double camera setup. I find myself interested in the same dual-lens scenario he used (in fact I have already used it in a video of my own) and was extremely inspired by the concept and editing of this work.
Sadly, Stark ended on a note, which again, was not a strong point. The Realist was too long and bogged down with story/too many ideas. Stark is at his best when dealing with only two or three simple, oddly interrelated ideas which permeate the work consistently from beginning to end. This piece tried to be too complex, losing any solidity of statement for each of its several ideas.
I have to say, for the most part I enjoyed this show much more than I expected to. I was consistently engaged with the films because their technicality and form were integral to the ideas being expressed. They managed to be at once serious and absurd, successfully mocking some thing while at the same moment bowing with honest reverence to its beauty. In the simple, Stark stumbles (intentionally) on the complex – a quality I aspire to in the future of my own films.