Wheeler Winston Dixon:
Museum of Modern Art Retrospective
Wheeler Winston Dixon
The Museum of Modern Art
April 11-12, 2003
"A grittier residue of '60s pop surrealism erupts in the works of Wheeler Winston Dixon. Though he's best known today as a scholar (his 1997 book The Exploding Eye provides a who's who of 1960s experimentalists), Dixon's short films [. . .] are themselves visual catalogs of underground techniques: snarky Bruce Conner-ish montage, psychoactive Conrad/Sharits flicker effects, and Mekasian home-movie diaries. The distinctive Dixon kick comes from witty edits to far-out music. His loopy Americana remix Serial Metaphysics (1972) grooves to an increasingly trippy reverb and teen portrait The DC5 Memorial Film (1969) prowls through Charles Ives, while the magnificent acid-structuralist London Clouds (1970) rocks to a Henri Pousseur electronic psych-out. The rich filmic collapse of personal memory into cultural history is summed up at the end of Quick Constant and Solid Instant (1969), a Fluxus performance set to a Gerard Malanga poetry reading. 'It will take you a long time' intones Malanga, 'to understand why I wrote poems for you.'" -- Ed Halter, The Village Voice, April 9 - 15, 2003.
Wheeler Winston Dixon, the prolific author of books on François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, American experimental cinema, and film theory, history, and criticism, has also been making experimental films and videos of his own for the past three decades. This three-program retrospective traces Dixon's career from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s, with rare screenings of early works like The DC Five Memorial Film (1969), which interweaves home movies of Dixon's 1950s Connecticut childhood with footage shot in 1969 in New York City and at a farm upstate; Quick Constant and Solid Instant (1969), featuring a Fluxus group performance piece and a poetry reading by Gerard Malanga; and Madagascar, or, Caroline Kennedy's Sinful Life in London (1976), in which a fictional Caroline recovers from a hangover. Also shown are the cleverly edited Serial Metaphysics (1972), an examination of the American commercial lifestyle recut entirely from existing television advertisements; and the feature-length What Can I Do? (1993), a rigorous and tender portrait of an elderly woman who holds dinner party guests in thrall to her difficult family life. Dixon will introduce all the three programs, and is generously donating the originals for these films to the Museum. - Organized by Joshua Siegel, Assistant Curator, Department of Film and Media.
Wheeler Winston Dixon: Program 1.
A dentist's convention in Cincinnati circa 1936; London in the Swinging Sixties; the infamous Fluxmass at Voorhees Chapel; Caroline Kennedy negotiating a kitchen blender; and a flurry of American television commercials are some of this program's humorous and touching subjects.
Bits and Pieces. 1969. USA. 2 min.
Three Early Films: DC Five Memorial Film; Quick Constant and Solid Instant; Wedding. 1969. USA. 20 min.
"THE DC FIVE MEMORIAL FILM is structured in five sections: a young man writhing in ecstasy in a deserted house in Massachusetts; rephotographed home movies of my childhood in 1953 Connecticut; footage shot at my farm in upstate New York in the summer of 1969, as some friends of mine share cigarettes in the woods; a party at the Sanctuary Discotheque in the summer of 1969, photographed using the same reel of color film reloaded into the camera at least seven or eight times; and finally the apotheosis of the work, in which a group of young women, arms linked, walk through the Port Authority Bus Terminal in the dead of night. The soundtrack is Charles Ives' Fourth Symphony, Fourth Movement.
QUICK CONSTANT AND SOLID INSTANT features John Wallington, a British painter, Rod Townley, and Gerard Malanga on the soundtrack, doing a poetry reading at Rutgers University. Also in the film, the Fluxus Group stages a Fluxmass at Voorhees Chapel at Douglass College; a rather controversial event at the time, and now part of performance art history.
WEDDING is the heartbreaker of the group. In three minutes of b&w film (one reel), run through the camera numerous times, I photographed the wedding of two dear friends in the spring of 1969, gathering together in one film some of the strongest relationships of my adolescence. Soundtrack: Sanctus from Gabriel Faure's Requiem Mass." -- WWD
Damage. 1974. USA. 6 min.
Dana Can Deal. 1976. USA. 7 min.
Madagascar, Or, Caroline Kennedy's Sinful Life in London. 1976. USA. 2 min.
London Clouds. 1970. USA. 4 min.
Tightrope. 1974. USA. 4 min.
"An unusually balanced film, a very simple film (but then, one which knows itself), an evolution of feeling poised (occasionally) on a single pinpoint of light, its two 'halves' like two thought processes which counter each other without ever encountering. Light is the subject matter, beginning in sun and ending at fireplace: But this continuity is not permitted to disturb the singular emotion of the film. I am especially intrigued by the stops-and-starts within zoom and pan movements - these metaphorizing eye-movement more exactly than the usual smoothness ... thus keeping the work most carefully personal." - Stan Brakhage
The Warm Midwestern Bedroom Does Not Matter. 1974. USA. 2 min.
Distance. 1968. Great Britain. 12 min.
Serial Metaphysics. 1972. USA. 20 min.
"Wheeler Dixon is a masterful film editor. His sensitivity to the movement within the frame and of the camera itself allows for a fluidity in his editing that is exuberant and refreshing. He is skillful not only in manipulating the flow of images but the flow of ideas as well. He has assembled his images mostly from television commercials andjuxtaposed them in such a way that their very ordinary nature suddenly becomes extraordinary. Through the editing process he reveals secrets of our culture that have always been sitting on our television screens but we have never seen them before. It is as though his film taps into our collective unconscious by exploring the surface realities that permeate our air waves. Magical realms, pubescent fantasies, dreams of wish fulfillment, all so innocuous and tame on the television set, assume strangely mythic proportions through Wheeler's editing and even the mundane world we accept so readily begins to look somehow dreamlike and unreal. This fusing of dream and waking consciousness creates the magic of SERIAL METAPHYSICS." - Bruce Rubin, Associate Curator of Film, Whitney Museum of American Art
Total running time 79 min. Friday, April 11, 6:30.
Wheeler Winston Dixon: Program 2.
Un Petit Examen, and Not So Damned Petit Either, or, The Light Shining Over the Dark. 1974-76. USA.
Dixon plays with narrative conventions in this portrait of a family coping with loss and rejection: A boy is turned down for choir school on the day when his father learns of the death of his own father. 40 min.
An Evening with Chris Jangaard; The Decline and Fall of 1960s Britain. 1974. USA.
Dixon interviews a European mod about his life, his imminent deportation from the United States, and his experiences in 1960s England. 40 min.
"A black-and-white documentary in which the director conducts a late-night outdoor interview with a European mod about his life, his imminent deportation from the United States, and his experiences during 'the decline and fall of 1960s Britain.' This scene is intercut at random intervals with vintage Beatles footage. The film is notable for its minimalist camera movement, reminiscent of the early films of Andy Warhol." - Rosemary Passantino
Total Running Time 80 min. Saturday, April 12, 3:15.
Wheeler Winston Dixon: Program 3.
What Can I Do? 1993. USA.
An elderly woman in describes her difficult family life to her dinner party guests.
"Four Stars .... Wheeler Dixon's WHAT CAN I DO is, without question, a serious work of cinema .... [Anna Lee gives a] remarkable performance. ... Dixon's challenging work has already sparked plenty of academic commentary. ... [It is] compelling." - L. Kent Wolgamott, Lincoln Journal/Star
"Mesmeric .... This is minimalist cinema at its most holding." - Brian McFarlane
"Creates the kind of intense engagement that one might expect if My Dinner With Andre were filmed by Chantal Akerman." - Lloyd Michaels, Film Criticism
Running time 80 min. Saturday, April 12, 5:30.
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