The Diary Films of Anne Charlotte Robertson
Presented by White Light Cinema
Sunday, February 9th at 7:00 pm, $7-10
The experimental film community lost one of its most original and distinctive voices in the fall of 2012 with the passing of Framingham, Massachusetts Super-8 filmmaker Anne Charlotte Robertson. Robertson’s films (and later digital videos) were visceral, haunting, emotionally raw works that opened up the artist’s life and her anxieties, obsessions, compulsions, addictions, and mental illness in unprecedented ways. Robertson’s films, now housed at Harvard Film Archive, are powerful documents of maintaining oneself with art, sharply incisive self-analysis, and caustic wit while struggling with an often times debilitating illness.
White Light Cinema is proud to present a selection of five early works by Robertson (whose films have not been seen in Chicago in well over a decade, and only a handful of times before that), in new digital transfers. [Robertson rarely screened her originals, and only when she was present. The previous solo show of Robertson’s work in Chicago, which I was fortunate to present at Chicago Filmmakers, was from VHS.]
These are startlingly moving works about the fragility and resilience of the human spirit. Robertson’s legacy is a remarkably brave example of really living life through art.
LOCOMOTION (1981, 7 min, Digital transfer of Super-8mm original)
“Overdoses, breakdown, and rage at system in a stylized mental hospital isolation room.” (ACR)
MAGAZINE MOUTH (1983, 10 min, Digital transfer of Super-8mm original)
“Folly of American consumer bingeing, animated with photos/ads and patriotic band music.” (ACR)
APOLOGIES (1986, 17 min, Digital transfer of Super-8mm original)
“I apologize for everything; another exercise in self-therapy.” (ACR)
FIVE YEAR DIARY – REEL 22: A SHORT AFFAIR (AND) GOING CRAZY (1982/96, 24 min, Digital transfer of Super-8mm original)
“The is Reel 22 of my Super 8mm opus Five Year Diary. It covers the period August 23 to September I, 1982. Within is documented a compulsive paranoid manic-depressive psychotic breakdown, following a brief love affair.
Synopsis: Introduction; a vegetarian dinner; the lover sleeping; sorting garbage; ex-lovers’ art; friends and cocaine; moon; composting sable brushes; the kitchen sink; wine; eating with my hands; the kitchen table; self-portraits’; construction machines; hiding behind the curtains; morning-glories at dusk; dinner with my mother; the drawings in the hall, yoga, and the goddess rap; calling the lover; saying goodbye; carnival rides; street scenes; weeping; flowers and bees; shadows on the carpet and empty rooms; esoteric sign language; sorting the compost; walking through Boston, hunting for clues; finding him in a fountain; my favorite statue; the slug incident; paranoia about plastic; putting everything in garbage bags; the construction site outside; calling the lover. “ (ACR)
FIVE YEAR DIARY – REEL 23: A BREAKDOWN AND AFTER THE MENTAL HOSPITAL (1982/91, 26 min, Digital transfer of Super-8mm original)
“This is Reel 23 of my Super 8mm opus Five Year Diary. It covers the period September 1 -December 13, 1982. Within are documented a paranoid manic nervous breakdown, a description of a mental hospitalization, and the subsequent recovery period. Sound is of wild tape of the breakdown, and a hidden tape-recorded psychiatric session; the second soundtrack is narration from 1991.
Synopsis: Introduction; paranoia about root vegetables; esoteric sign language; searching for hidden significances; crush on Tom Baker (“Doctor Who” from BBC Television); my cats Amy and Buddy; vegetarian cooking; the compost heap; my mother and her house; driving into Boston; unemployment; television hypervigilance; hiding inside; exorcism with tea and mirror and lamps; too much wine; my friend the painter Susan Brown; the movie The Turning Point; experiences in a mental hospital; psychiatric session recording; autumn street and garden scenes; the mental day-hospital; domestic still-lives; bingeing; self Gestalt-therapy; school; groceries; winter; my garden; a series of self-portraits.” (ACR)
“Anne Charlotte Robertson was a Super 8 filmmaker and diarist who lived in Framingham and attended Massachusetts College of Art. She began making films in the mid-1970s as an undergrad at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and earned her MFA at the Massachusetts College of Art. Her main work is the 38-hour opus, FIVE YEAR DIARY, which she began in 1981 and kept far longer than five years. Each episode of the diary, spanning varying numbers of days, is 27 minutes (approximately 8 camera rolls) and the diary is 84 reels long. In addition to the FIVE YEAR DIARY, Anne made over 30 other (mostly diaristic) short films, including APOLOGIES (1990), TALKING TO MYSELF (1985), MAGAZINE MOUTH (1983), and MELON PATCHES, OR REASONS TO GO ON LIVING (1994).
Anne used a sound super 8 camera, and the films have many layers of soundtrack. The original screenings were also performances if Anne was in attendance. There is the original sound on film, recorded at the same time as the picture, there are often also audio cassettes she would play with the film, and she spoke over the film as well.
Anne took the written diary form and extended it to include documentary, experimental and animated filmmaking techniques. She did not shy away from exposing any parts of her physical situation or emotional life. She became a pioneer of personal documentary and bravely shared experiences and observations on being a vegetarian, her cats, organic gardening, food, and her struggles with weight, her smoking and alcohol addictions, and depression (she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder). Romance (or lack thereof) and obsession are long-running themes in the DIARY films, as is the cycle of life. In the films, Anne sows seeds, reaps vegetables, cooks and pickles them, composts the scraps. She buries family members and beloved cats, notes the changing seasons, contemplates suicide, has nervous breakdowns, creates films, pines for her celebrity crush (Tom Baker of Doctor Who), finds religion, and obsessively documents her own life in film, paper, and audio tape.
Anne didn’t shy away from documenting her own weaknesses. Weight and diets are addressed throughout the work. Her struggle with mental illness is investigated again and again. She made a film while undergoing a nervous breakdown. She talks about being hospitalized, taking prescription drugs, and fearing the next breakdown. In the layered audio of the DIARY film, she explains what was going through her head when she shot certain things – here she is looking for signs in the everyday; here she is obsessively visually cataloging her garbage; here she is worrying she is causing pain to the root vegetables she means to eat – a problem solved by re-planting them.
Ms. Robertson’s films were shown all over the world, often at super 8 – specific festivals. Her work touched many people, and inspired a number of women filmmakers. In 2001, she was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in Filmmaking.” (Harvard Film Archive)
Special Thanks to Harvard Film Archive.
Filed under: documentary, experimental, film