THE Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts comes on like a private place. Its ways are mysterious to the uninitiated and its works are largely unknown to the Harvard community. Last Thursday night, almost tenderly and with little fanfare, the VAC offered its films of the last year to the public.
These are excellent films which should not be hidden away in vaults. Their makers deserve all the support and publicity that more publicity-minded but not necessarily more excellent film-makers of Harvard have monopolized for too long, and to everyone's detriment.
Almost all of the eleven movies are good, short, and original. Since the film makers draw upon limited training and finances, the simpler films seem to be more successful. Two time-lapse films, one done by Derek Lamb's class and Robert Gardner's, illustrate the point. Gardner's film is of Calder directing the construction of his Great Sail at M.I.T. The movie has synchronized sound, color and a Great Man's Face--all of which Lamb's House Moving lack. But Gardner's materials are a bit out of control. He leaves Calder mumbling inaudible marvelous-old-man-isms, as if through a weird orange filter, while Lamb's House Moving is taut and simple and very funny in its different sobriety.
Steven Imhoff's movie, about a collect phone call to Lyndon Johnson, and Kevin Rafferty's, romantically entitled Balls, were the wildest of the lot. Imhoff's movie sets a sound track of himself making his collect call on top of a mad melee of still photographs and film clips punctuated by blanks on the screen. The film wheels on crazily in visual free association above the voices of the cool boy on the phone, the confused operator, and the indignant presidential receptionist.
Rafferty's sometimes dirty, sometimes lyrical fantasy about pool balls showed the most athletic imagination of the lot. The end of the fantasy, with pool balls jumping merrily out of the graves and pools of the Mount Auburn Cemetery isn't very effective; but generally the most ludicrous of his schemes are wonderful to watch, and even the least tasteful moments are very funny.
In its deep, steep reality Tony Ganz's New Deal is just the opposite of Rafferty's movie. It is a dreadfully acute picture of the old, which moves at a devastatingly easy pace.
Carolyn Leaf, however, did the loveliest work of the evening. Her animated film of Peter and the Wolf, done in black sand, was beautiful, alive, and truly elegant. The movie absorbs the idiom of story and music to sing the terror of the wolf and the forest, and the pathos of the animals that are eaten.
More films will be shown late this week or next week, and I think that last Thursday's films should be shown again. People are not playing esoteric Bauhaus games at the VAC. In many ways what is happening there is as exciting as anything at Harvard. All sides would benefit from knowing just what that excitement is and where it will, and can, go.