Selected Shorts

Maria Lassnig, Palmistry, 1975, still from a color film in 16 mm, 10 minutes.

Audiences visiting the Whitney’s film and video gallery this summer have been privy to an ample and diverse program of artist-curated screenings. Complementing the museum’s exhibition of Paul McCarthy’s dynamic sculptural and moving-image installations, and continuing an autobiographical project begun earlier this year at the CCA Wattis Institute in San Francisco, “Paul McCarthy: Film List” primarily comprises films and videos that influenced the artist's practice; the screenings also serve as a set of miniretrospectives of both familiar and neglected bodies of work. The programs titled “Los Angeles,” for example, included the seldom-seen videos of Nina Sobell and Bas Jan Ader, in which McCarthy had clearly discovered affinities with his own strange slapstick. These programs also surveyed the work of Pat O’Neill, Jack Goldstein, and Morgan Fisher, all of whom share with McCarthy an obsession with the Hollywood dream factory. In my view, the real find of the program was Fisher’s deadpan Turning Over (1975), a live-to-tape commemoration of the rolling over of the odometer in the filmmaker’s old car (a video shot in San Francisco, as if in homage to Hitchcockian suspense).

The remaining weeks offer the chance to review Austrian classics by Kurt Kren, Valie Export, and Peter Kubelka, as well as the lesser-known films of Maria Lassnig. Those with an interest in McCarthy’s darkly comedic side will want to catch Lassnig’s Palmistry (1973), in which an overweight girl sings of her refusal to become thinner for the sake of a man (“I like the cakes, I like the pies / As long as you eat, you will not die”). The final program, “1965,” includes Russ Meyer, Jonas Mekas, and Sidney Lumet, but its attention-grabber will likely be McCarthy’s own upside-down-and-backward version of Robert Wise's The Sound of Music. Titled cisuM fo dnuoS ehT (2001), the piece was first shown in Austria in response to the rise of Jörg Haider’s Freedom Party. In a sense, “Austria” and “1965” are no different from the rest of the series: They suggest the artist’s deep-rooted and ongoing dialogue with Hollywood, experimental film, video art, and performance.