The Hole Idea

Paolo Gioli, The Perforated Cameraman, 1979, still from a black-and-white film, 9 minutes.

PAOLO GIOLI GAVE Dziga Vertov a quintessentially Italian two-finger salute when he unsubtly subtitled one of his films Man Without a Movie Camera. Since the late 1960s—when the Sarzano-born, Venice-educated artist first encountered the cinematic stratagems of Stan Brakhage, Hollis Frampton, and Michael Snow during a residency in New York—Gioli has rejected the Bolex-toting habits of Vertov’s heirs in favor of a more materialist-minded approach.

His own tactics have included creating collages of found footage, abrading and painting on leader, and, most infamously, constructing pinhole cameras from bread loaves and seashells. Closely related to his experimental photographic work (which has already wended its way into the collections of MoMA and the Centre Pompidou), the often dazzling results constitute an iconoclastic and prescient body of film work that’s only now coming to wider attention.

Following a special program at the New York Film Festival in 2006, a screening at Cinematheque Ontario this week includes three shorts making their North American premieres. Made largely without the benefit of what Gioli dubbed “consumerist” film technology, the likes of The Perforated Camerman—a 1979 film in which Gioli reimagines the lowly sprocket hole as a frame within the frame—establish him as a bridge figure between the New American Cinema he discovered as a young artist and found-footage maestros such as Austria’s Peter Tscherkassky.

Gioli’s use of weathered scraps of celluloid also anticipates Bill Morrison’s odes to decay, though many of Gioli’s works display a larkish humor that befits a devotee of Duchamp. In Little Decomposed Film (1986), Gioli’s manipulations of the film stock further strain the nude figures in his source material, which principally consists of Eadweard Muybridge and Thomas Eakins’s Victorian-era studies of humans in motion.

In Commutations with Mutation (1969), the earliest work in Cinematheque Ontario’s program, the wavering lines of the sound strip and the vertical cascade of sprocket holes force the film image out of its usual position of privilege. Considering that much of the footage Gioli places under duress is lifted from an old western, his film could almost be regarded as a blueprint for Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine, Tscherkassky’s mesmerizing 2005 tribute to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). In any case, it appears that Gioli got along without a camera just fine.

“The Experimental Cinema of Paolo Gioli” screens November 19 at Cinematheque Ontario (Jackman Hall). For more details, click here.