Films by Bruce Wood
Presented by White Light Cinema
Introduced by Bruce Wood Live Via Webcam!


August 21st, 2009

For a short period in the 1970s, then-Chicago-based filmmaker Bruce Wood created several amazing and intensely beautiful black and white abstract films. And then he stopped; not an uncommon story. In recent years growing attention has been paid to “forgotten” regional filmmakers around the country – and Chicago is no exception. Hidden gems are being rediscovered and shining again years after they were made. White Light Cinema and The Nightingale are pleased to be part of this process by screening this program of four of Wood’s final films.

Bruce Wood studied painting, printmaking, and filmmaking at the Massachusetts College of Art (BFA) and enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (MFA), to study filmmaking under Stan Brakhage. It’s easy to see the painterly qualities in his films. One can feel possible influences from Malevich and Mondrian on one side to the abstract expressionism of Pollack and De Kooning on the other. But Wood’s films also hint at a wide history of experimental filmmaking as well, from early abstract pioneers such as Vikking Eggeling and Hans Richter to the lyrical work of Bruce Baillie and Stan Brakhage to the then-current work of Structuralist filmmakers.

Despite the many threads to be found in Wood’s films, they aren’t “poor copies” of other artists’ work – he has a style and feel that seems quite unique and individual.

Bruce Wood writes: “Unlike my contemporaries who approached film as extensions of poetry, drama, science, or music, I concentrated on finding a film structure which had purely visual influences. I was obsessed with expanding the legacy of Abstract Expressionist painting, and with using light as a medium for achieving that goal.

I worked to create a visual language of film which was “Pure.” In that quest, I stripped film down to its basic qualities: Light, Dark, and Motion. Each film is silent, to avoid any misconception that the image had been edited to match the rhythm of music. I also experimented with creating images primarily through the manipulation of light and film stock, in an attempt to keep them non-referential. The titles alone are poetic, and were provided after the creation of the films to set a tone of undefined mystery.

My films are literally extensions of the aesthetics made popular by the Abstract Expressionist painters. The influence of Franz Klein is most evident, as the films are totally devoid of color. However, the influence of Op artists like Vassarelli and Albers is also there, evident in colors which are produced in the retinas of the viewers.” “Bruce Wood’s films are among the most sensual of any “abstract” animated work ever made. Projected, they generate a fluid stream of organic images in a carefully controlled post-cubist space comparable to the work of painters like Jackson Pollock. Viewed one frame at a time, (which is the way much of the footage is shot), they recall the rich lines and textures of such master etchers as Rembrandt. Wood’s use of camera movement during the exposure of each individual frame – like drawing – together with the illusion of movement in projection make his films both beautiful and unique.”
(Bill Judson, Curator of Film, Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute)

BETWEEN GLANCES (1978, 14 mins., 16mm, b&w, silent)
“BETWEEN GLANCES . . . plays with the illusion of depth, with interactions between apparent upper and lower planes. Strong blacks and whites bound the range of grays they encompass, while, periodically, black and white stills devoid of gray tones and of motion demarcate the film’s progress.”
(B. Ruby Rich)

THE BRIDGE OF HEAVEN(1977, 33 mins., 16mm, b&w, silent)

FROZEN FLIGHT (1977, 32 mins., 16mm, b&w, silent)
“Bruce Wood, in the few short years he has been working in film, has produced an amazing body of work. He is practically alone in a genre (black and white silent abstractions) which has its antecedents in the likes of Eggeling, Richter and Leger. What I find most interesting in his work, amid the concern with textures, shape and space, is his ability to produce works of even tension. Doing away with concepts of beginning, middle and end, he presents a broad landscape, piece by piece, until he has exhausted the source of his subject matter and the whole scene lies there naked and revealed.”
(Carmen Vigil, Director, The Cinematheque, San Francisco Art Institute)

THE SMELL OF DEATH – World Premiere Screening!
(1977, printed and “released” 2004, 16 mins., 16mm, b&w, silent)
“The Smell of Death is the only film I made which started with a non-visual idea. It actually started with a title before anything else, and marked a change in my approach to film. Maybe that is why it was the last one for twenty-five years. When it was done, I returned to painting.

The title refers to the death of one of my uncles. My father found him minutes later, and described “the smell of death” which he had experienced before. That event set the tone in my mind for this film.

Each preceding work was preoccupied with beauty and illusion. This one I wanted to be strong and austere, a statement of life and death. In that way, The Smell Of Death is closest in structure to poetry than any of my previous works. I found that concept totally unsettling, considering how I had abhorred narrative structure.”

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