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Hidden Presences: Films by Willie Varela Retrospective (in person)

Sunday June 11, 8pm $15
@ CineCycle, 129 Spadina Avenue
Co-presentation with aluCine; Latin Film + Media Arts Festival
Note: PD Members discount & Pleasure Passes are not valid for this event.

Part of Summer 2017

From his home in El Paso, Willie Varela has been making personal, experimental moving image work since 1971. The
films and videos collected in this program are a sampling of Varela’s massive body of work, and include environmental portraits, experiments with abstract light forms. His work is informed by a disparate range of influences — including Chicano culture, Catholic iconography and ritual, and mass media. Varela’s work is thus a nexus of regional identity, faith, and technological experience. By this, Varela’s films transcend distinctions of formal and social investigation. His early super 8 films emphasized perception and gestural abstraction. Varela has described them as being “domestic in nature … concerned with the rhythm and the dailyness manifests, like in the films of his friend Stan Brakhage, as a record of a life of passionate visual exploration.” In his early abstract films, such as Becky’s Eye, transforming coloured light suggests, at times, a gradient iris, or an inflamed sclera, and even when these rhythms are slowed, the film remains ambiguous in its content. Stephen Broomer, curator

Program:
Becky’s Eye
1977 • Super8mm-on-16mm • 3’31’’ • Silent
Becky’s Eye is also unique for its ambiguity, where the light abstraction remains indicative of a concrete thing — an iris, a lash — just barely escaping perception. Such lightplays announced one theme of Varela’s filmmaking, the expression of feeling, both spiritual and emotional, and of time, both mythic and present, through a transforming light. This theme carries forward into his diaries, for example, March 1979, in which elusive, silhouetted figures, refracted light forms, the leaves of houseplants, and the unrestrained bobbing of a caged bird, combine in what is shaped as a single morning, a waking of the world.

Ghost Town
1974 • Super8mm-on-16mm • 2’43’’ • Silent
Ghost Town is a study of wrecked buildings, Varela’s camera panning across the strange beauty of the rusted metal, broken glass, and rotting wood of the structures, eventually discovering another symbol of time, a tree that Varela animates by his dynamic exploration.

Recuerdos de Flores Muertas

1982 • Super8mm-on-16mm • 6’58’’ • Sound
Recuerdos de flores muertas continues this theme of finding beauty and terror in an unkept environment. It is filmed in an old cemetery, where Varela bears witness to the wounds, both sculpted and incidental, of Christ sculptures that are missing fingers and hands, in the shadow of a highway overpass and with the sounds of traffic and planes whirring in the distance.

March 1979
1979 • Super8mm-on-16mm • 3’27’’ • Silent
Elusive silhouetted figures, refracted light forms, the leaves of houseplants, and the unrestrained bobbing of a caged bird, combine in what is shaped as a single morning, a waking of the world.

In progress
1985 • Super8mm-on-16mm • 12’30’’ • Sound
In Progress, among the most haunting of Varela’s films, compiles scenes from medical films; observations of street life; scenes of protest in San Francisco, in the aftermath of Harvey Milk’s assassination; and images from mass media (break dancing, rocket launches, Reagan at the start of his second term), all with the characteristic skip of the television set’s signal. Varela’s camera captures street musicians and commuters cropped in the sharp and often mirrored surfaces of the San Francisco cityscape. The apocalyptic omens that Varela has gathered from television cast a grim shadow, and that shadow is already upon us in the fracturing, dehumanizing witness of Varela’s own protest march. As Varela moved on from film, working with video from the 1990s to the present, the spiritual and autobiographic concerns of his work remained, evidenced in the longer works that conclude this programme, works in contemplation of sacred and profane experience.

His Hidden Presence
1998 • Video • 10’10’’ • Sound
His Hidden Presence continues the multiform, ‘found’ image construction of In Progress, accommodating a collage soundtrack of electronic beats, a distorting, looping horn, and a loop of the Velvet Underground, to accompany surreal and horrific scenes of wrestling and crucifixions, as well as diaristic photography.

This Burning World
2002 • Video • 32’ • Sound – dual screen
This Burning World is a dual screen video work combining footage of earlier works, rephotographed televisions, images of the 9/11 terrorist attack, and iconic faces as diverse as those of Osama Bin Laden and the Sphinx. Repeating images of hands, in wild, infernal colour schemes, make for a visceral reminder of the wounds of Christ. But these wounds are not isolated as historical citation or distant spiritual doctrine, as the hand passes slowly over the glow of television, its signal disrupted, vibrating noise.

Willie Varela - Ghost Town

Willie Varela - Ghost Town

Willie Varela - Ghost Town

Willie Varela - Ghost Town

Willie Varela - His Hidden Presence

Willie Varela - His Hidden Presence

Willie Varela - His Hidden Presence

Willie Varela - His Hidden Presence

Willie Varela - In Progress

Willie Varela - In Progress

WillieWillie Varela - In Progress

Willie Varela - In Progress

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