EROS AS PLAY: TWO 16MM UNDERGROUND
FILMS Barbara Rubin's Christmas on Earth
and Curt McDowell's Pornagrafollies Part of The CinErotic Film Fest February 12 - 14 , 2010 at Eyedrum,
Christmas on Earth projection and live
soundtrack mix by Andy Ditzler
Barbara Rubin filmed Christmas on Earth
at age seventeen in New York, 1963. The title comes from a poem by Arthur
Rimbaud, who like Rubin completed his major work while still a teenager. The
film is ahead of its time in several ways: as an early example of double
projection (two images superimposed on the screen); as an explicit, sexually
charged work by a woman director; and in its incorporation of performance
elements into the process of projecting the film.
Rubin made the film in
June or July of 1963. She gathered a small group of friends in a New York
apartment, and over the course of twenty-four hours made footage of their
polymorphous erotic play, lovemaking, and painted bodies.
Christmas on Earth connects the
sensuality of film with that of eros. The finished film consists of two
thirty-minute reels. One, largely closeups of male and female genitalia and
other body parts, is projected at full size on the screen, and a second,
projected as a smaller image inside the outer image, consists of fuller views of
the group members at play. This playful relationship between closeup and full
view reflects the various sexual "inversions" onscreen.
Rubin suggested that
colored gels be held and moved in front of the lenses during projection so that
projectionist (or audience) can turn the black-and-white reels into color.
Through becoming physically involved with the projection, the audience discovers
an element of play and sensuality with film that is analogous to the polyamorous
activities on the screen.
The soundtrack is provided by the projectionist. Rubin
instructs that the sounds be "psychic tumult," which she provided in the 1960s
via playing AM radio stations loudly - or occasionally via live accompaniment
from her friends The Velvet Underground. Today, we can use past or present-day
radio and sounds, which can add layers of irony, poignancy, urgency, and less
classifiable, uncanny qualities to the film's long-ago images of psychedelic
consciousness achieved through celebratory sensual delight.
Curt McDowell made Pornografollies in
1970 while a film student at the San Francisco Art Institute. There's almost no
conventional eroticism here: instead, Pornografollies is about
loosening up the body via the infantile hilarity and ridiculousness of being
The film's thirty
minutes breeze by with an almost comparable number of tiny vaudeville acts
centered on the genitals or on simple nudity. The participants cheerfully
disrobe to perform tasks from mundane to bizarre - none of which are explained
and many of which will leave a distinct "what the fuck was that" impression on
spectators. These follies are not conventionally humorous any more than the
genitals on display are conventional porn.
Is this "porn" or
folly? Maybe it's both. With its "Singing Twat" and its "Poop Chute Act,"
McDowell's film flies in the face of an age where indie filmmaking can act more
corporate than Hollywood itself, where providing a "solid narrative" is an
unquestioned necessity for artistic productivity. In this context, the
deliberate pointlessness and non-productive goofiness of Pornografollies
may be its most pleasingly kinky quality.