Go into the light

Avant garde filmmaker and musician Tony Conrad's flickering cinema comes to SFAI

In an online interview, experimental filmmaker and violin drone pioneer Tony Conrad relates a story: one night, underground drag superstar Mario Montez wandered into the apartment Conrad shared with filmmaker Jack Smith, and at Smith's behest began an impromptu performance. When Smith flicked on a beaten up 16mm projector to serve as a makeshift spotlight, he and Conrad became transfixed by the play of light that reflected off Montez's sequined outfit. While it would be glib — and certainly fun — to declare that 1960s structural film was born from the glittering gyrations of a drag queen, Conrad's anecdote is but one development in his longstanding fascination with the excessive sensory effects of shooting light out into the void. Conrad's 1965 16mm film The Flicker is perhaps his purest and best-known manifestation of this — 30 minutes of black and white stroboscopic bliss (or hell) that cast its long shadows over Brian Gysin's dream machines, and more contemporarily, Anthony McCall's striking digital light and fog projections. You'll have the chance to see how much flashing light your eyes can take when San Francisco Cinematheque presents screenings of Conrad's films in conjunction with the New York-based polymath's weekend-long residency at the concurrent Activating the Medium Festival. While Sunday night's program features The Flicker, it also puts it into context as a jumping off point for Conrad's subsequent process-based films and public access video works, in which activities such as electrocution and cooking take on a rhythm as mesmerizing as staring into the pulsating light of a film projector.


Fri/3, 5 p.m. (Program One: "Window, Perspective Shadow")

Sat/4, 8 p.m. (Program Two, with Conrad in performance)

Sun/5, 7:30 p.m. (Program Three: "Flicker and Process Films/Works on Video"), $15

San Francisco Art Institute, 300 Chestnut, SF


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