INTREPID PALPITATIONS: AN EVENING WITH SAUL LEVINE
by: Tristan Teshigahara Pollack
Enter the fearless imagery of Saul Levine: a couple engages in a carnal session of downwards dog, children play, BB King takes a solo, cacophonous jackhammers resound as media broadcasts become enmeshed with home videos of domestic affairs. What exactly are we observing here? Are these reflections from a schizophrenic? Or are they filmic jottings of a wistful poet? Nothing is for certain when entering the arena of this filmmaker. Levine, a professor at MassArt, has hermetically kept a record of his life history ever since he first picked up a super 8mm camera (in the late 60s). Saul Levine, an educator, programmer, editor amongst many other things, comes from cinema’s most furtive era of independent filmmaking.
Unjustly neglected, Levine is both a participant and an outsider in the camp of American avant-garde filmmaking. He has cited Maya Deren, Maria Menken and Stan Brakhage as influences, but his rapid-fire film splices are closer in style to Jonas Mekas and the silent era of cinema. Nonetheless, Levine is far less concerned with poeticizing his ‘notes,’ than avoiding the diary-like reflections. For Levine, the camera splice which overlays disjointing sound is not just an aesthetic choice, but more importantly, it is a gesture, an unmediated rhythmic reflection of the creator behind the splice. Indeed, Levine’s cinema is very much a cinema of ‘discovery.’
He does not make his films without being his own musical director, archivist and performer. One of his most fascinating ‘discoveries,’ entitled The Big Stick/ An Old Reel (1967), is an inexhaustible experiment on intercutting. Traversing the line between film archiving and filmmaking, The Big Stick bravely intercuts two Chaplin shorts which center on police riot control and street revolts. Levine contextualizes the Chaplin reels to his own epoch, abruptly cutting in the middle of frames, which could be read as a visual signpost of political strife. The arcane rhythm of Levine’s palpitations are actually quite simple: they are raw visual meters that culminate with their respective contexts.