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Film/Video, Structuring Strategies: Thom Andersen, Faculty Member, Program in Film and Video

October 2, 2012
Tuesday, October 2, 2012 - 7:00pm

CalArts, Bijou Theater

FILM/VIDEO: Thom Andersen, faculty member, Program in Film and Video, will show and discuss Get Out of the Car, --- -------, and other works.

stills: Get Out of the Car


(2010, 35 min., 16mm)                 
Direction: Thom Andersen; camera: Madison Brookshire, Adam R. Levine; editing: Adam R. Levine; sound: Craig Smith

GET OUT OF THE CAR is a city symphony film in 16mm composed from advertising signs, building facades, fragments of music and conversation, and unmarked sites of vanished cultural landmarks (including El Monte Legion Stadium and the Barrelhouse in Watts). The musical fragments compose an impressionistic survey of popular music made in Los Angeles (and a few other places) from 1941 to 1999, with an emphasis on rhythm’n’blues and jazz from the 1950s and corridos from the 1990s. The music of Richard Berry, Johnny Otis, Leiber and Stoller, and Los Tigres del Norte is featured prominently.

 “Andersen’s film frees images from the yoke of instrumentality, revealing the city for what it is and allowing us to see what we otherwise cannot. It is at once theory and practice; not content to simply describe the new cinema, it embodies it… It teaches us how to see. ” – Bright Lights Film Journal

"Get Out Of The Car… is an elegiac portrait of the back patio of the city: Latin quarters, empty spaces that had been communal spaces, a culture in disappearance, a culture in transformation." – Cahiers du Cinéma España

“Get Out of the Car [is] a sporadically funny and poignant study of Los Angeles from Thom Andersen, whose disgust for that city is matched only by his transparent love. Working in film, Mr. Andersen tours Los Angeles largely through one of the most despised, contested and quotidian elements clouding our collective field of vision: the billboard. Instead of garish new signs, though, Mr. Andersen reserves his camera and intermittently audible dry wit for weather-beaten, tattered billboard ads in which the original images are absent or hardly recognizable. Like the brightly hued, hand-painted wall murals that also capture his interest here, these derelict billboards fill this film with ephemeral beauty.”  – Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

 “Originally the film was going to be much more centered on the images, and the sound was just going to be ambient sounds… I got interested in the responses people had to us when we were filming. And I quite enjoyed the conversations that occurred… And, in the end, I think the soundtrack is probably more important than the images, which is the opposite of the way it began…There’s an impressionistic history of black jazz and rhythm and blues in Los Angeles, which is part of the city’s heritage which should be better known. It has been forgotten to a surprising extent… My conviction about the importance of music to films has intensified over the years. Bad music, bad sound-tracks, have destroyed a lot of movies. The best filmmakers are always the ones with the best musical sense, like Pedro Costa, Jean-Marie [Straub], or even Stan Brackhage… One of the most significant advances in modern cinema was the abandonment of non-diegetic music…”  – Thom Andersen, interviewed by Cinema Scope


(Remix) by Craig Smith (2012, 7 min.)


(1966, 5 min., 16mm)

“On Sunday, January 16, 1966, we shot 200 ft. of 16mm Kodak Ektachrome MS film, type 7256, at OLIVIA’S PLACE, 2618 Main Street, Santa Monica, California. We shot with a static camera, mounted on a tripod, using only available light. A recording of THERE IS SOMETHING ON YOUR MIND by Big Jay McNeely and his Band, with vocal by Little Sonny, was on the jukebox then. The Harlem Globetrotters and TOKYO JOE, starring Humphrey Bogart, were on TV that afternoon.”  — Thom Andersen, John Moore.

This text appears as a title at the beginning of Olivia’s Place. In 1970 or 1971, Bill Norton filmed a scene for Cisco Pike there. Olivia’s Place was also the inspiration for the song “Soul Kitchen” by The Doors. It was demolished in 1972 or 1973 as part of a redevelopment project that turned Santa Monica’s Main Street into a boulevard of expensive shops and restaurants (including restaurants owned by Wolfgang Puck and Arnold Schwarzenegger).

stills: --- -------

--- -------

(Thom Andersen and Malcolm Brodwick, 1967, 11 min., 16mm)

Director’s Statement: In --- -------, we attempted to reconcile formalist cinema and documentary cinema by making a documentary about rock music in which the parts would be related formally, rather than thematically. We began with a simple dialectical form. The shots and segments of sound become progressively and gradually longer in units of two. Within each unit, the first part is half as long as the second part. We began to call these units “iambs,” relying on this definition: “A foot, in poetic metre, consisting of a short syllable followed by a long one…” The title is a nonverbal symbol for an iamb. Within this basic rhythmic structure, there are other less systematic patterns based on dialectical oppositions between adjoining shots. For example, the dominant color of each shot is opposite the dominant color of the shot preceding it and the shot following it, creating a pattern like this: orange, purple, yellow, blue, red, green, purple, orange, blue, yellow, green, red.

The picture montage and the shot track were each constructed according to this formal schema, but they were made separately. Malcolm Brodwick edited the sound track, and I constructed the image track, but we worked independently. Thus the relation between image and sound at any point in the film is determined by chance. The film is a series of picture-sound equations with arbitrarily chosen terms.

We wanted to create a form that would allow the images and sounds to retain their autonomy. We wanted to avoid topicality, refusing to supply facts that can be expressed in expository prose. We actually believed that the film would be more interesting to viewers forty years later, and we were right.


(1964-1965, 16mm)

A single, static 200  ft. shot, filmed at 3 frames per second, MELTING shows the natural monostructural disintegration of a strawberry sundae, its passage from rigidity to softness, from edibility to waste,  The spoon resting on the plate refers to the human presence, which lurks behind the screen, declining to interfere with what transpires.


Thom Andersen has lived in Los Angeles for most of his life. In the 1960s, he made short films, including Melting (1965), Olivia’s Place (1966), and --- ------- (1967, with Malcolm Brodwick). In 1974 he completed Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer, an hour-long documentation of Muybridge’s photographic work. In 1995, with Noël Burch, he completed Red Hollywood, a videotape about the filmwork created by the victims of the Hollywood Blacklist. Their work on the history of the Blacklist also produced a book, Les Communistes de Hollywood: Autre chose que des martyrs, published in 1994. In 2003 he completed Los Angeles Plays Itself, a videotape about the representation of Los Angeles in movies. It won the National Film Board of Canada Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 2003 Vancouver International Film Festival, and it was voted best documentary of 2004 in the Village Voice Film Critics’ Poll. He has taught film composition at the California Institute of the Arts since 1987.


  • Reconversion (2012)
  • Get Out of the Car (2010)
  • Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003)
  • Red Hollywood (1996)
  • Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer (1974)
  • Olivia's Place (1966/74)
  • --- ------- (1967) (aka Short-Line, Long-Line)
  • Melting (1964-1965)
Last edited by dthatt on Sep 27, 2012
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