Since 2006, I have worked as an independent film preservationist with a focus on Canadian underground and student filmmaking. This work began while completing my master's degree in Film History at York University, where my focus was on Canadian student filmmaking of the 1960s and specifically, the work of John Hofsess, at the time believed to be lost. I took up film preservation at the urging of Canadian film historian Peter Morris (1937-2011), whose writings charting the early development of Canadian cinema convinced me that there were many important Canadian films that were either in danger of disappearing, or temporarily lost and deserving of recovery. As I wrote my first book, Hamilton Babylon: A History of the McMaster Film Board, I gathered 27 student films of the era from a variety of sources, including university and government archives and from the filmmakers themselves. Since 2014, my preservation efforts have been devoted exclusively to Canadian underground and avant-garde filmmaking. My current projects include the restoration of Arthur Lipsett's Strange Codes (1972), undertaken with the support and blessing of Lipsett's family and the facilitation of the Cinematheque quebecois; 36 Short Films (1984), the only film by photographer, sculptor and teacher James D. Smith; the films of Canadian Neo-Dada painter Greg Curnoe (1965-1970); and R. Bruce Elder's The Book of All the Dead (1975-1994), a sprawling, 36-hour epic in the modern tradition of Ezra Pounds' Cantos, the preservation of which we have been coordinating with the Library & Archives Canada and a team of digital postproduction specialists.
A number of these projects would not be possible if not for the creation of digital masters on select projects by the Library & Archives Canada, the scanning work of Lianna Hillerup at Frame Discreet, the technical expertise of Kyle Sanderson, Steve Cutler and Pablo Perez, and the advice of peers such as Greg Boa, Mark Loeser and Walter Forsberg.
I have also worked on commission in performing 16mm blow-ups from super 8, as well as 16mm prints from digital intermediates.
In 2016, Cameron Moneo and I co-founded Black Zero, a multimedia publishing company, to release high-quality home video versions of Canadian underground films, including many of these films. The first wave of releases will occur in 2018.
36 Short Films (James D. Smith, 1984) (in progress)
Films by Greg Curnoe (1965-1970) (in progress)
The Book of All the Dead (R. Bruce Elder, 1975-1994) (in progress)
Everything Everywhere Again Alive (Keith Lock, 1974/75)
Strange Codes (Arthur Lipsett, 1972)
Films by the McMaster Film Board (1966-1975)
Palace of Pleasure (John Hofsess, 1966/67)
Commissioned 16mm Film Restorations
Central Core Imagery Jump Rope (1998, Allyson Mitchell & Lex Vaughn, from super 8 original) [for the8fest, 2016]
Cupcake (1998, Allyson Mitchell, from super 8 original) [for the8fest, 2016]
A Day in the Life of a Bull Dyke (1995, Shawna Dempsey + Lorri Millan, from digital intermediate) [for the8fest, 2016]
36 Short Films (James D. Smith, 1984)
Jim Smith was a photographer, sculptor, and professor of art at Ryerson University.
From a statement read by Jim Smith at the premier screening, 1984 Festival of Festivals, Toronto:
"A little while after the turn of the century, Oscar Barnack, in the employ of Ernst Leitz, Wetzlar Germany, constructed a pocket-size mechanism capable of exposing 35mm motion picture film, one frame at a time. Its purpose was to experiment with what was at that time a rather temperamental, sometimes uncooperative light-sensitive material. The small device succeeded splendidly, enabling the Leitz company to gather data, consequently of enormous benefit to the motion picture film industry. It succeeded in other ways, too, eventually becoming the now legendary Leica still-photography camera.
"It is out of respect for Oscar's effort and as a tribute to him that the title 36 Short Films has been attached to my film. Otherwise, the title has no precise bearing on the content of the film. The film deals exclusively with what the Germans, centuries before the advent of cinema, had appropriately designated STOFF. Once this point has been thoroughly stated through visual phrase and descending orders of paraphrase (induced mnemonic recapitulation) - several minutes into the film - events begin to twist and turn (invoked allegorical inversion) into a sad and yet redemtivist didactic speculating on the nature of social in submission and estrangement."
This restoration is being undertaken in partnership with Cameron Moneo and Jim's son, Jim Smith Jr. It is being done from a 5k scan of the camera negatives.
No Movie / Sowesto / Connexions (Greg Curnoe, 1965-1970)
Greg Curnoe was a Canadian painter active from the 1960s until his tragic death in 1982. His work was guided by a raw engagement with materials—strongly resembling the Neo-Dada movements taking place in New York and Paris—and by the idea of pursuing regional themes and establishing a supportive regional network for artists. To this end, he was a beloved figure in his London, Ontario community and did much to further the interests of the city’s artists, as a co-founder of publications, artist-run centres, the Nihilist Spasm Band, and CARFAC, an organization devoted to standardizing the compensation for artists. His paintings often employed figures drawn from popular culture, modern political history and his immediate community, and his assemblages were often made out of everyday stuff—cardboard boxes, newspapers and magazines.
In late 2016, thanks to the efforts of Jim Shedden and Jesse Brossoit, and with the permission of Sheila Curnoe and the Art Gallery of Ontario, I began work on the digital restoration of Greg Curnoe’s films Connexions, No Movie and Sowesto. These films present a fascinating and difficult translation between media, fixed, like much of Curnoe’s work, in the technology of the home movie, with the slipping gate of the 8mm film camera and crude, double-system sound recording, and all efforts are being taken to maintain these qualities, as the films would have been seen when they were made and as Curnoe’s aesthetic sensibilities would dictate.
This work is being done from a 5k scan of prints that were provided on loan from the Art Gallery of Ontario. Thanks to Jim Shedden, Jesse Brossoit and Frame Discreet.
The Book of All the Dead (R. Bruce Elder, 1975-1994)
R. Bruce Elder's The Book of All the Dead is one of the major works of Canadian avant-garde film, a 36-hour cycle composed in three regions, each region accounting for one day's screening. I have been working with Kyle Sanderson, Steve Cutler and others on the digital restoration and long-term preservation of this cycle, as well as more recent films of Elder's from his second cycle, The Book of Praise (1997-present). Select works in this cycle (e.g., Illuminated Texts, Lamentations, Consolations and parts of Exultations) have been digitally remastered by staff at the Library & Archives Canada (thanks to Greg Boa, Paul Gordon and Tina Harvey).
- REGION ONE: THE SYSTEM OF DANTE'S HELL
- Breath/Light/Birth (1975)
- The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1979)
- 1857 (Fool's Gold) (1981)
- Illuminated Texts (1982)
- Lamentations: A Monument to the Dead World, Part 1: The Dream of the Last Historian (1985)
- Sweet Love Remembered (1980)
- Lamentations: A Monument to the Dead World, Part 2: The Sublime Calculation (1985)
- Permutations and Combinations (1976)
- REGION TWO: CONSOLATIONS (LOVE IS AN ART OF TIME)
- Consolations(Love Is an Art of Time) Part 1: The Fugitive Gods (1988)
- Consolations(Love Is an Art of Time) Part 2: The Lighted Clearing (1988)
- Consolations(Love Is an Art of Time) Part 3: The Body and the World (1988)
- REGION THREE: EXULTATIONS (IN LIGHT OF THE GREAT GIVING)
- Flesh Angels (1990)
- Look! We Have Come Through! (1978)
- Newton and Me (1990)
- Barbara Is a Vision of Loveliness (1976)
- Azure Serene (1992)
- She Is Away (1976)
- Exultations: In Light of the Great Giving (1993)
- Burying the Dead: Into the Light (1993)
- Trace (1980)
- Et Resurrectus Est (1994)
Several years ago I wrote this introduction to R. Bruce Elder's work for Hamilton Arts & Letters. A note on Breath/Light/Birth (1975) is given here, and notes on Barbara is a Vision of Loveliness and Permutations and Combinations (both 1976) are here. I am preparing further texts on Elder, to be released in tandem with the restoration of these films.
Everything Everywhere Again Alive (Keith Lock, 1974/75)
Keith Lock's Everything Everywhere Again Alive is a landmark work of the Canadian underground cinema, a film diary with mystic and symbolic overtones. In the early 1970s, Toronto filmmaker Keith Lock moved to Buck Lake, near Orillia, Ontario, where boilermaker Tom Brouillette and members of the Toronto art scene were undertaking an experiment in communal living. For several years, Lock filmed the achievements and daily rituals of his fellow communards, his camera bearing witness as a community assembled and dispersed. The resulting film uses poetic strategies, including logograms and other graphic disruptions, to extend its themes of renewal and rebirth, the inevitability of change, and the resonances between reason and imagination, the concrete and the abstract.
The preservation of this film is made possible through the work of the Library & Archives Canada, specifically Paul Gordon, who scanned the film in 2014. Further work has been done to the digital master by Lock, Patrick Jenkins and myself.
This project also involved the 2k restoration of Keith Lock's Going, a companion work made in the same period in regular 8mm. Digital remastering of Going was done from a 2k scan made by Frame Discreet.
Strange Codes (Arthur Lipsett, 1972)
By 1970, Arthur Lipsett had firmly established himself as a maker of masterful collage films for the National Film Board of Canada. Despite his popular acclaim, the increasingly bizarre nature of his projects confounded NFB producers, which led to a split with the organization. With his collaborator Henry Zemel, Lipsett set to make his first independent film. For Strange Codes (1972), Lipsett and Zemel staged rituals in Lipsett’s Toronto apartment, with Lipsett appearing on screen as four characters: a Russian cossack, a shaman, a shriner, and as the Monkey King of Chinese mythology. The resulting film is dense with ambiguous gestures, enigmatic perspectives, and citations so individual to Lipsett that it becomes a coded self-portrait, a treatise on the act of questioning itself, an ecstatic, primal vision against the sober fact of science.
This project was undertaken with the support of Cameron Moneo, Brett Kashmere, the Lipsett family and the Cinematheque quebecois.
The film was restored from a 5k scan made by Lianna Hillerup at Frame Discreet. I am undertaking further work to ensure that Lipsett's outtakes from this period of independent filmmaking, which were given to me by the Cinematheque quebecois, will be preserved.
Films by the McMaster Film Board (Various, 1966-1975)
In the 1960s, McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario was host to a wild and unlikely flourishing of modern art and philosophy. A small group of visionary students established the McMaster Film Board, a unique extracurricular club formed under the aegis of John Hofsess to advance the cause of independent, underground, and personal filmmaking. Inspired by the example of Jonas Mekas, Hofsess and his peers set to making films that reflected the turbulence of the sixties, in a kinetic and psychedelic style, exploring both the technological and spiritual themes of the Canadian imagination, as well as the radical theories of sex and love that were taking root in the era's intellectual culture.
Between 2006 and 2015, I wrote an account of films made at McMaster from 1966 into the mid-1970s while organizing screenings of them. These films include:
Redpath 25 (John Hofsess, 1966, 10 minutes, 8mm)
Palace of Pleasure (John Hofsess, 1966/67, 38 minutes, 16mm dual projection)
Buffalo Airport Visions (Peter Rowe, 1967, 20 minutes, 16mm)
To Paint the Park (David Martin, 1967, 23 minutes, 16mm)
...and dionysius died (Robert Allington, 1967, 8 minutes, 16mm)
Orientation (Ivan Reitman, 1968, 25 minutes, 16mm)
Garbage (Eugene Levy, 1969, 5 minutes, 16mm)
Walk On (Jim Bennett, 1969, 6 minutes, 16mm)
End (G.W. Curran, 1969, 6 minutes, 16mm)
Freak Film (Ivan Reitman, 1969, 8 minutes, 16mm)
The Chair Studies (Tom Laing, 1970, 5.5 minutes, 16mm)
Day Off (Dan Goldberg, 1969, 17 minutes, 16mm)
Jack and Jill (Eugene Levy, 1970, 23 minutes, 16mm)
Reversal (Dennis Matheson, 1970, 7 minutes, 16mm)
Civilization (G.W. Curran, 1970, 13 minutes, 16mm)
A Flower and a Penny (Andrew Rainbow, 1970, 5.5 minutes, 16mm)
Poor Richard's Almanac (Paul Schumacher, 1971, 20 minutes, 16mm)
Haugh (Bryce Kanbara, 1971, 17 minutes, 16mm)
Penelope (Graham Petrie, 1971, 16 minutes, 16mm)
The Locals (Vern Ferster, 1971, 11 minutes, 16mm)
My early work on this project was done using substandard video transfers of government-held works, and 16mm internegatives of films recovered from artists. This is how the work was circulated from 2006 to 2015.
In 2015, high-resolution scans of many of these films were completed by the staff at the Library & Archives Canada. This work was done by Greg Boa, Lynn Lafontaine, Paul Gordon, and Tina Harvey. Further to this, some films were combined from various elements to create comprehensive versions of films. Additional scans of non-archival materials, and subsequent colour-correction and dust/scratch removal, were done in 2016.
The restoration of Palace of Pleasure, in particular, was done using notes given by John Hofsess. There are two versions that screen, with differing imagery, thanks to the LAC's efforts in providing scans of all three existing prints.
St. Andrew's Club, Toronto, Ontario, April 25, 2017
The National Art Centre, Ottawa, Ontario, February 28, 2017
McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, February 22, 2017
The Art Gallery of Hamilton, Hamilton, Ontario, June 23, 2016
TIFF Bell Lightbox, Toronto, Ontario, May 17, 2016
The Pleasure Dome, Toronto, Ontario, February 12, 2010
Cinematheque Ontario, Art Gallery of Ontario, January 24, 2009
Department of Popular Culture lecture series, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, November 13, 2008
The Canadian Film Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, October 10, 2008
Palace of Pleasure (John Hofsess, 1966/67)
Between our first meeting in 2007 and his suicide in 2016, I worked with John Hofsess to preserve his work as a filmmaker and critic. This research was the germ of the initial McMaster Film Board restorations (above), begun during the course of my master's degree. My master's thesis, Man in Pieces: John Hofsess and the McMaster Film Board (2008), focused largely on Hofsess, and was later reworked into Hamilton Babylon: A History of the McMaster Film Board (2016).
I have described the film in these terms:
"Intended as a trilogy, only two parts were completed, Redpath 25 (8 minutes) and Black Zero (30 minutes). In Redpath 25, a young woman (Patricia Murphy) has a fantasy encounter with a man (Norman Walker) who she literally unwraps from behind a foil screen. On the left projection, they caress each other in an environment of flowers, foil, and coloured lights, images of ferris wheels and rapid motion blurs interrupt, and on the right projection, television news scenes from the Vietnam War play out, cloaked in a pale blue light. In Black Zero, a series of silent, dramatic scenes play out: a young couple (David Martin and Michaele-Sue Goldblatt) walk through a park; they talk, cry, and fight; a group of youths sit around a table, preparing for a ritual suicide; and three people lay in a bed, one man deeply tormented while the other two, a man and a woman, have sex. Throughout, these scenes are interrupted by kaleidoscopic rephotograph and other abstract images, as well as book and album jackets, and magazine advertisements. The various contents cross both left and right projections. On the soundtrack, contemporaneous rock music plays — the Who, the Velvet Underground, the Mothers of Invention, Sandy Bull — and throughout Black Zero, the characters appear to enact poems by Leonard Cohen, read by Cohen on the soundtrack. The film ends with the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for the Man” playing while the images gather intensity, culminating in a freeze-frame of a woman. Once this image has cut to black, in total darkness, the music continues for two minutes, cutting out suddenly on a rising wave of feedback.
"...The Palace of Pleasure was an ideal, a metaphor for enlightenment, an interior castle. John Hofsess believed in filmmaking as a social experience, and as an emotional and ideological exercise. He believed in filmgoing as an opportunity for transformation, growth, of reckoning and catharsis. To enter this new realm, of sensual immersion and emancipation from suffering, was an impossible ideal for him. The film serves as a testament to the ambitions of its times, when cinema could be reimagined as something that could contort and change with us, reshaped beyond its apparent boundaries, to be transformed and to transform, rather than merely reflect the world, to break down illusions rather than merely emit them. At its first screening, a critic described it as a seance. With time, Palace of Pleasure has come to summon more ghosts, to offer wisdom by its innocence, and to remind of the worth of healing ambitions in art. It is cinema as ritual — a revival of the Dionysian Mysteries. By this, the signs of its times have become eternal."
For a conference at Central Saint Martins in 2016, I was invited by Herb Shellenberger to give this video introduction to the film.