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Part II: The Rise of 'Ruin Cinema': Experimental Filmmaking in the US Rust Belt, 1970s-1980s

Venue: Birkbeck 43 Gordon Square

Part II: The Rise of 'Ruin Cinema': Experimental Filmmaking in the US Rust Belt, 1970s-1980s


While George Romero and Andy Warhol are often the first filmmakers that come to mind when people think about the Rust Belt city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, there is much, much more to the city's film history. The period of the 1970s and 1980s produced a number of significant, home-grown experimental and independent filmmakers whose treatment of class and economic turmoil, in the backdrop of Trump and working class antagonism, we cannot continue to ignore. Inspired by visiting artists (particularly Stan Brakhage) and the film program at the local art museum, and set against the painful backdrop of economic crisis, deindustrialization, and population loss, a variety of filmmakers rose up, operating in different genres (animation, found footage, documentary, narrative and experimental). Spanning groups such as punks, aging hippies, art school dropouts, horror film fanatics, and unemployed steel workers, this movement made work that was linked by an all-encompassing interest in images of death, loss, deconstruction and chaos. More than that, several artists - in particular gay filmmaker Roger Jacoby and fine artist Paul Glabicki- deconstructed the essential components of the filmic medium, reworking aspects of filmic reproducibility to make works that existed as auratic paintings, with individual frames treated as important as the entire work itself.

This talk is an introduction to what I'm tentatively calling 'ruin cinema'�, a set of filmic tendencies opposed to the High Modernism and medium-specificity imperatives of avant garde film, and embodying the defining currents of the experimental filmmaking in the Rust Belt region. Looking at representative filmmakers such as Stephanie Beroes, Peggy Ahwesh, Roger Jacoby and Tony Buba, the talk teases out the key traits of ruin cinema as an aesthetic and mode of film practice. It indicates how regional artists both flourished-- and suffered-- under the parameters of the film- as-art media art center movement, even as they made and circulated innovative images of working class life during deindustrialization.

Note: The talk will be followed by a presentation of 16mm film by local artists who exemplified tendencies of so-called 'ruin cinema.'�

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