By David DeRocco
There are musical performances accompanied by a backdrop of projected images; there are film screenings that conversely feature soundtracks of recorded music. Then there is A NEW PLACE TO DWELL, a multi-media mash up being orchestrated by Canadian film producer Jonathan Culp at Niagara Artists Centre (NAC) offering a synergistic hybrid of interactive film and live musical performance.
A NEW PLACE TO DWELL is a compelling artistic collaboration that brings Culp and scrappy post-punk power trio Several Futures together for a kinetic one-hour audio-visual jam session – on-screen, with Culp weaving his magic using three Technicolour Super 8 projectors, and on-stage, with Several Futures delivering a free-flowing accompaniment of avant-rock. It’s an idea that originated at last January’s “8Fest” film festival in Toronto, where Culp had been commissioned to do a similar presentation for the first time.
“It’s not just Several Futures playing along to a film,” explained Culp, a producer who often uses “found footage” in his film projects rather than shooting original scenes. “It’s kind of an interactive format. With the Technicolour projectors I’m able to use regular Super 8 film on a loop. It’s a good format for live projecting because I don’t have to fuss around with threading film. Because of the simplicity of the projectors I’m able to respond to the music as well.”
In an age of easy-to-edit digital film technology, Culp says he still prefers the experience provided by working with Super 8 film.
“I’ve always liked the physical aspect of it,” said Culp. “The tactile aspect of being able to work with it is a big relief from sitting on computers making videos. It’s almost a crafting exercise. Then there’s the scarcity and uniqueness of these films. They’re kind of a mysterious window into the lives of the people filming them. “
The clips being used by Culp in his part of the performance have been gathered up over the years from disparate sources, including flea markets, garage sales, eBay or reels that have simply been offered up for the taking. Culp says he has become an obsessive Super 8 collector, and part of the addiction is the treasure he finds buried in the images.
“I’ve made it a mission to accumulate this stuff,” says Culp, “because there’s often fascinating footage in there. There are a lot of home movies, and it’s amazing how many of these films show up at flea markets just cast off. I happened to come across this one collection from a guy in Guelph who (filmed) a lot of showgirls and cheerleaders. There’s another amazing sequence from the late 70’s of these people dancing in the atrium of the Eaton Centre. Then there are extracts from Hollywood type films as well.”
Culp says he lets the footage dictate the direction the film takes to create a more organic experience, especially when it’s being screened to a wholly original and unrehearsed soundtrack like the one being provided by Several Futures.
“The film is selected because it’s visually interesting, but often because it’s kinetic as well. It’s fun seeing the way the images play off of each other when they’re being screened at the same time. When you’re doing this kind of thing you have to let the footage tell you what it’s about. And it’s always different. I respond to (the music). If the energy is going up or down in tempo, I respond. It’s a unique environment to be working in. Usually there’s a lot of one way dialogue with audio-visuals. This is a cool opportunity to have both elements working on the same plane to create something new.”
Providing a forum for new artistic expression is what the St. Catharines’ based NAC is all about. Stephen Remus, NAC’s “Minister of Energy, Minds and Resources,” says an event like A NEW PLACE TO DWELL fits into the Centre’s objective to present artistic work across all disciplines.
“We like to think of ourselves as a community centre with a focus on the arts,” said Remus. “To our mindset ‘popular’ is just another way of saying common or average. Our mission is to bring the uncommon and the extraordinary to downtown. Sometimes the place is packed, sometimes it’s a handful of people but that doesn’t impact the quality of the experience.”
With NAC’s downtown address, the Centre has definitely enjoyed the residual benefits of being close to both the new Meridian Centre and new First Ontario Performing Arts Centre. However, Remus said NAC has benefitted more from the Brock University development of the old Canada Hair Cloth factory.
“There’s definitely more pedestrian traffic downtown, more walk-ins, more urban activity,” said Remus. “But I think the greatest impact on NAC has been the arrival of the Marilyn I Walker School (of Fine and Performing Arts). The energy of the organizations and artists already residing downtown has been consolidated with the school’s students and faculty. We’re currently developing ways that we can all share resources so that there are fewer limits to what artists can create here.”
The 8mm film and live music event Culp is orchestrating in St. Catharines December 19th will present a vastly different artistic experience than the one being offered in sterile movie theatres screening holiday blockbusters this Christmas season. As a film producer and artist, Culp says the goal of this performance is more cerebral than commercial.
“I hope that we expand some people’s ideas of what movies can do and the entertainment value of the “arty” side of things, because this is going to be an audience friendly event. We’re not shoe-gazers. We’re there to put on a show. It’s not Star Wars. But there might be a few pieces of Star Wars if you look carefully.”