John Price: Second Childhood

Second Childhood, a curated program of John Price’s films shown at WNDX this year, consisted mainly of works from Price’s AD (after dependents) era (2004-2009). Only two works were shown from his BC (before children) era (1992-2004), namely, fire #3 and eve. fire #3 is a psychedelic “hymn to the warmth of the sun” made on a cold winter evening using expired film stock and a candle. Through a rich palette of hues we watch a silent artificial sun traverse a handmade sky. In eve, a girl under the influence of crack is watched soliciting prostitution. This scene is common to anyone who has lived in (or been to) East Van. Living in this area of Vancouver you bear witness to people on crack performing a ritualistic dance pejoratively referred to as the Hasting Shuffle. Most of the time people overt their eyes and cross the street in order to avoid becoming a part of this ceremonial ritual. Price forces us to watch this tragic situation.

The other works shown in this program consisted of films from Price’s AD era. Although, many artists’ careers end after they have children, it seems that Price’s has just began. Price is often described as filmmaker who makes home movies and some explicit examples include party #4, naissance, gun/play and Camp #2 .

party #4, gun/play and Camp #2 are examples of films that capture the innocence of childhood. party #4, is the documentation of Price’s son enjoying one of the simple pleasures of life, eating cake and ice cream. gun/play, starts off with a boy innocently playing with a toy gun and ends with a boy playing by himself in a lake. Camp #2 mixes hunting iconography with the documentation of his son’s first attempts at understanding death. In naissance, Price documents his fully pregnant wife and the after mass of birth, namely his newly born daughter and the placenta, an organ that he is clearly fascinated by. Price has described this film as “the act of seeing with one’s own heart” and this act appears to apply to most of his home made films.

With children, Price has also started questioning the future of the world that his children will grow up in. This is particularly evident in Making Pictures and the sound lines are obsolete. Making movies was shot in China when Price was assisting Peter Mettler on Jennifer Baichwal’s Manufactured Landscapes. Price observes the film crew observing in a country socially devastated by industrial revolution. Shots of the film crew waiting for the “action” are cut together with shots of the building of the Gorges Dam, the daily activities of Cankun Aluminum Recycling Facility and people living in atrocious conditions. This film raises questions about the act of making and the ecological future of our planet.

the sounding lines are obsolete consists of different sections, the title referring to the sparse, perfectly composed shots of people dangling in space on thin lines of rope. For me, these shots would have been enough to complete the work. Price describes the piece as:

An irradiated time capsule of home movies and human rituals… dark global forecasts refracting through the light of my sons eyes… a hand processed science fiction documentary…

The other sections of this work seem slightly out of place and appear to be tied to the piece only through the synopsis. However, these sections could easily stand on their own and include shots of a world where his son playful swims in the same fountain where men in post-apocalyptic body suits dump chemicals and shots of his son playing with other children at a playground in a homemade spacesuit complete with two litre bottle jet pack. This costume (a costume that would make Mike Marynuik proud) paints a cute portrait of alienation. Recently, in an interview with Mike Hoolboom, Price has claimed “at the moment I am less interested in ‘finishing’ work than in exploring the process of how the dialogue between the photographic texture of the material and the subject of the frame can communicate something essential about humanity”. This film appears to be an example of such an exploration.

It is easy to see why Price’s film View of the Falls from the Canadian Side has been described by Hoolboom as “his reigning masterpiece (so far)”. The film begins in colour with a pot bellied tourist going through the motions of photographing his family in front of the Niagara Falls. This seems like the perfect distinction between Price’s “home movies” and the tourists; that is, one is actively observing and the other is passively performing the ritual of observing. The Falls themselves are revealed through “long drifts of focus”. These slow focus pulls provide us with a moment where the Falls becomes truly in focus. This provides us with a brief glimpse into the true beauty of the Falls and with a realization about much we are missing by not truly focusing on the world around us.

If the images and content of this film aren’t enough to push it into the Canadian fringe film canon then the fact that this film has already been mythologized should. Genevieve Yue claims that Price shot the film “using a camera built to the same specifications as the one used in 1896 by William Heise” and Hoolboom has claimed that Price shot the film on “his small wooden box of a camera, entirely blind (there is no way to see ‘through’ the ‘camera’, rather it is pointed towards the subject in wide-angled hope), steadily cranking film through the device after looking and looking again”. Price is quick to demystify these claims, stating that the film was shot on an “anamorphic gate, 4 perforation 35mm arri 3 with a25-250HR angenieux zoom lens fitted with a rear mount anamorphic adapter”; however, he did once shoot at the Falls with Hoolboom using “a 1926 Devry lunchbox”. This footage was used in another film, namely, intermittent movement.

In 1896, William Heise shot the Niagra Falls using a camera system designed and built by Thomas Edison and William K. Dickson. Edison’s camera was 4 perforation spherical 35mm, however, the physical specifications of the film were identical to the film that Price used to shoot the falls. So in essence, Price is using “the same essential technology” as he claims in the synopsis of this work.

If this package is curated again, I would recommend adding more films and breaking it into two screenings. The films seem to fit naturally into two sections, First Childhood, a collection of works for Price’s BC era (1992-2004) and Second Childhood, a collection of works from Price’s AD era (2004-present). After hearing Price talk about future projects at WNDX, one including a glimpse at an isolated northern community and their rituals, I am eagerly awaiting Price’s future hand processed cinematic visions.

At Winnipeg Cinematheque 7/17/09

The works selected, introduced and projected by John Price were:
remembrance day parade
fire #3
eve
naissance
party #4
Making Pictures
gun/play
Camp #2
the boy who died
View of the Falls from the Canadian Side
intermittent movement
the sounding lines are obsolete

– Clint Enns

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~ by cineflyer on October 20, 2009.

One Response to “John Price: Second Childhood”

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