By John DeFore
The Aurora Picture Show, which has become a familiar name in San Antonio due to the efforts of Wiggle Room co-director Anjali Gupta, is a Houston-based movie venue hosting experimental video and film work. Since 1998, the collective - which makes its home in a little white church building built in 1924 and since renovated into a 100-seat theater - has brought filmmakers to Texas from around the world, focusing on folks whose names will likely never appear in the credits for a Hollywood feature. Many of them, in fact, are far out enough in relation to what is considered "cinema" by most people, that they're unlikely even to pop up in established festivals like Sundance. Unless your name is Matthew Barney, the movie world is an unfriendly place for experimental movies; the avant-garde, for most cinephiles, is something located exclusively in the distant past.
Aurora has created a home for the stuff that falls in that vague area between "movies" and gallery installations. These are short films where a few minutes of footage might add up to one conceptual joke or a demonstration of a handful of technical experiments. At their best, they can show you things you will never see in the multiplex.
As the Houston micro-cinema shows far more material than they could ever tour statewide, this week's program is a "best of" compilation. Newcomers to this kind of thing should keep in mind that "best" in this context does not always mean "most entertaining." Some of the shorts are not only insubstantial but will seem to many viewers to be put together with no sense of craft whatsoever. Radio Nowhere, for instance, is a fragmented, paranoid, fake home movie with Patsy Cline songs laid over it. Others - like 10, which uses editing tricks to make a guy with two left feet look like a ballet star, or Tape 5925: Amy Goodrow, the premise of which seems intended to be a surprise - appear to have an inflated sense of their own cleverness.
The slate is rounded out with a couple of micro-documentaries, some editing/effects experiments, and a strange pseudo-home-movie that requires a little knowledge of recent Argentinean history.
Two of the films, to my mind, rise high above the others: Jeroen Offerman's The Stairway at St. Paul's is a stunning bit of performance, in which the artist photographs himself doing a complete rendition of "Stairway to Heaven" in reverse, then plays the tape backward; the effect is lifted wholesale from Twin Peaks, but the scale and execution of Offerman's stunt is impressive and hilarious. Bjørn Melhus' The Oral Thing, on the other hand, relies on professionally rendered computer effects and cut-up editing to make a Negativland-like comment on the bizarre quasi-religious rituals of daytime TV. •
By John DeFore