BIOGRAPHY OF DOMINIC ANGERAME [ Biography ] [ Teaching History ] [Publications]
Artist Statement and Background by Dominic Angerame
"To see the city through the eyes of Dominic Angerame is to see an organic beast of concrete that sifts and breathes in rich shades of black and white."
-Silke Tudor, SF Weekly
I have created more than 35 films that have been shown and won awards in film festivals around the world.
As a filmmaker my achievements in the field of filmmaking is another valuable asset. My films continue to receive enormous success and recognition worldwide. In November 2000, I was invited to Bilboa, Spain, to judge the 42nd International Short Documentary and Narrative Film Festival and present a program of experimental films at the Guggenheim Museum. I have also served on the jury of the San Francisco International Film Festival in the New Visions, and Personal Documentary categories, as well judged the Experimental category in the Mill Valley Film Festival. I have also had retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as part of the "CINEPROBE" series.
My series of films entitled City Symphony consists currently of six titles: Continuum; Desconstruction Sight; Premonition; Line of Fire; In the Course of Human Events and The Soul of Things. These films were made between 1984 thru 2013 and currently I am working on two new films in this series. City Symphony has been exhibited and won awards in numerous Film Festivals; Theatres; Museums; Art Centers; Libraries and classrooms around the globe. These screenings and awards are far too numerous to mention here.
ANACONDA TARGETS premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival; Onion City Film Festival, Chicago; Lincoln Center; featured at the Whitney Biennial and every film festival which it entered around the world. from March 2006 through May 2006. This short experimental political film was screened in viturally hundreds of festivals around the world. Viennale, Vienna International Film Festival featured a two day retrospective of my film and each year I continue to show my work and others at the International Festival del Cine Nuevo Americano in Havana.
My film The Soul of Things (2013) and the City Symphony series recently were screened at Basement Films in Albuquerque and the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque and most recently shown was also shown at the Theatre Ursuline in Paris, Filmwurks in Rotterdam; and OFFoff in Ghent, Belgium. Nominated for a John D. Rockefeller Foundation Grant in Filmmaking my film In the Course of Human Events (1997) was part of a group exhibition held at the Fondation Cartier in Paris from November 2002 through March 2003 entitled "Ce Qui Arrive" curated by noted urbanist Paul Virilio. Invited as a guest artist in South Korea for the 50th anniversary of the creation of DMZ in 2005 I was able to film in the world’s most militarized zone and that work is in progress.
I have shown and lectured about the importance of avant garde/experimental cinema at the Tokyo Museum of Photography; Northwest Film Study Center; The International del Nuevo Latininoamericano Cine (for the past ten years) in Havana; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Film Festival at Mar de Plata (Argentina); San Francisco Film Society; Bilboa International Film Festival, Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao; International Architecture Film Festival in Graz (Austria); Wesleyan University; Warsaw Media Museum; Dokument Film Festival in Germany; Impact Film Festival in Lucerne among many other notable Museums, Universities, Film Festivals and organization around the globe.
My contributions as Executive Director for Canyon Cinema are considered major in the field of Independent Filmmaking and Film culture. Canyon Cinema is one of the few remaining distribution centers for avant garde/experimental cinema and distributes 3500 film titles from more than 350 filmmakers from around the globe.
My field of research and study consists of the History of Bay Area Experimental Cinema. I am featured in an independent documentary which will cover this area, produced by George Lucas, and I was interviewed extensively for a special on KRON 4 called from Bogart to the Bay. This special covered a section regarding the history of Bay Area experimental filmmakers from the 1940’s to the present. I was a co-curator for the a program called SHAKE THE NATION presented at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1999. This film series traced the history of experimental filmmaking in the Bay Area from 1932 to the present time and was presented over the course of a three month period.
During the past ten years I was instrumental in establishing an Experimental/Avant Garde section at the The International del Nuevo Latininoamericano Cine, in Havana, Cuba and have been showing my own work and presenting comprehensive programs tracing the history of Experimental Cinema in the United States from the 1920s to the present. This year celebrates the tenth anniversary of this section of the Film Festival in Cuba.
I teach and have taught (as an adjunct Professor and visiting artist) filmmaking/cinema studies/criticism the San Francisco Art Institute; film production and cinema studies at the University of California Berkeley, Extension, New College of California; and have been a guest lecturer and visiting artist for Stanford University, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Graduate School of Theology in Berkeley, The Interantional Film School in Cuba and others. I also received the Honored Instructor Award from University of California, Berkeley Extension.
I teach Cinema Studies: History of Film; Classic Film Studies; Independent and Experimental Cinema. It has become apparent to me that the passion and enthusiasm for the Cinematic Arts is highly contagious. I communicate and generate a sense of dynamic energy through a process of encouragement that exposes students to the possibilities inherent in the making of film or the cinematic experience itself. This process helps motivate my students to continue their work in both the short and long terms.
My teaching philosophy is to present students with art that is groundbreaking, and to introduce the work of film artists who courageously venture into new artistic realms. I encourage my students to find their own way. Much of my role as a teacher is to act as a facilitator to help dissolve fears of exploring artistic territories and boundaries. I run extremely strong critiques that enable students to view their work in a positive critical manner. This, I feel is important in order to explore different methodologies in creative moving images. Teaching comes very naturally to me, and I have the capabilities of allowing my students the freedom to pursue their art in the manner in which they are compelled.
My extensive teaching background in the History of Film has allowed me to open many students eyes into viewing cinema in new and creative ways. Among the courses I have taught are: the History of Silent Cinema; The History of Sound Cinema; Literature and Cinema; The History of Avant Garde Cinema; German Expressionist Cinema; Film Aesthetics; DA/DA Surrealist Cinema; Maverick Directors; Art in Cinema and Beat Cinema. Teaching at the New School of California and University of California Extension, has also afforded me great experience in teaching students from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
The film teaching expertise I possess allows me to help students with diverse cinematic interest learn the basic and advanced techniques of film and video production. I have taught beginning filmmaking to students with no prior knowledge of film, video, or photography with extremely successful results. Some film production courses I have taught are: Beginning Filmmaking; Super 8mm Film Production; Advanced Film Production; Sound for Film; Graduate Seminars; Independent Study in Film Production, and Optical Printing/ Animation Techniques.
Photo: Dennis Letbetter
TEACHING HISTORY [ Biography ] [ Teaching History ] [ Publications ]
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, San Francisco, CA
Adjunct Faculty, 2015-present Cinema and Media Studies
San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA
Visiting Faculty Film Dept. various years 1989-2010
Cinema and Media Studies and Film Production
University of California, Berkeley Extension, San Francisco, CA
Faculty Member, Film/Video Department 1982-present
Cinema and Media Studies; Film History and Production
Academy of Art University, San Francisco, CA
Faculty of the Film/Media Department from 1982-1997
Cinema and Media Studies; Film History and Production
New College of California, San Francisco, CA
Adjunct film faculty 1983-1987
Selected Listing for Guest Lecturer
San Francisco Historical Society “Pioneers of Bay Area Experimental Filmmakers” 2016
Stanford University, Stanford, CA
Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT
Graduate Theological University, Berkeley, CA
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Contemporary Center for the Arts, Barcelona
Selected Courses Developed and Taught
History of Silent and History of Sound Narrative Film
Experimental/Avant Garde Cinema
Dada and Surrealist Cinema
Literature and Film
Maverick Film Directors
Art in Cinema
Film and Media Production
Beginning and Advanced Filmmaking
Sound for Filmmaking
Independent Projects/Tutorials/Critiques BFA
Advanced Filmmaking Techniques
Graduate Filmmaking/Independent Studies
PUBLICATIONS [ Biography ] [ Teaching History ] [Publications]
The City, Refuse, Passion, and Death: On the Work of Filmmaker Dominic Angerame
by Stefan Grissemann
Since the 1960s, the American filmmaker, theorist, and avant-garde activist Dominic Angerame has been working in a form that is both documentary and poetic, an aesthetic alliance between realism and fantasy. He employs a variety of techniques, but his films are invariably and primarily concerned with basic problems of rhythm: the nervousness of the montage in almost all Angerame films stands in startling contrast to the gentleness of its effect on the viewer. The double and triple exposures this artist prizes so much brake, as it were, the quick pulse of his cuts and help them to achieve a peculiarly delicate quality.
Dominic Angerame’s works search for unfamiliar views of seemingly familiar things: cities, landscapes, faces, and bodies. The filmmaker’s desire to make everyday images “strange” at the editing table, to learn to see them fresh and to estrange them from our senses, makes his films seem—in all the different social realities they contain—always distanced as well, as if they led to another world beyond the concrete, beyond time and defined space. In Angerame’s films, which pay homage to films from early cinema and the classic avant garde to American underground films of the 1960s and 70s and non-narrative films of the present day, an amazingly comprehensive history of the “visionary” moving image is always present. It may be that precisely his refusal to adopt a signature style has diminished the immediate influence of Angerame’s films; however, Angerame’s decision to work “universally,” not to be swayed by considerations of the art market, and to experiment with very different styles increases the pedagogical worth of his films. It’s not surprising to learn that Angerame, born in 1949, teaches at several American schools in addition to being the executive director of the American avant garde distribution center Canyon Cinema. His films testify to an encyclopedic knowledge of film—and also his desire to satisfy, with his own audio-visual offerings, the very different desires of his audience.
The concept "experimental film," by the way, doesn't fit Dominic Angerame. It sounds, he says, like it's just an attempt, as if he didn't know exactly what he was doing. His practical work in film is informed by essentially one principle: the renunciation of "narrative form." That alone seems enough to isolate a visual talent like his for a long time. Dominic Angerame is a marginalized filmmaker. The large digital movie databases don't even know his name.
His own films are “like city symphonies,” Angerame explains lapidarily, “big-city landscapes in high-contrast black and white.” This alludes to only one (but nevertheless important) part of Angerame’s oeuvre: his five-part City Symphony, made between 1987 and 1997, the title of which is derived from the famous 1927 Walter Ruttman film Berlin: Symphony of a Big City, and which formally stands in the tradition of Dziga Vertov’s urban-industrial montage. Angerame’s city films show (urban) destruction and (cinematic) construction as two sides of the same coin: as de-construction even. To see the city through Angerame’s eyes, writes Silke Tudor, is “to see an organic beast of cement that seems to breathe in rich shades of black and white.”
The first of the City Symphony films is an Angerame masterpiece. Continuum deals in complete immediacy, with the play of light and shadow on cement surfaces, streets, houses, and bridges, but it deals also with the work performed on these sites: steel frames full of busy welders gleam in the blazing sun, house facades are cleaned and sand blasted, streets are tarred and strewn with shimmering gravel. There’s wiping, spraying, cooking, shaking, and painting: Angerame shows us a world at work, in transformation—and, at the same time, he brings out the hierarchies implicit in that world: proletariat and industry, above and below. The workers remain anonymous, and the masks they wear emphasize their lack of identity. Nowhere else is Angerame’s virtuoso editing technique, celebrated by Stan Brakhage for its “seeming lightness, which is so difficult to achieve,” more apparent than in Continuum.
If one knew nothing of their history, it would be virtually impossible to date Angerame’s films. There’s a decidedly timeless quality to the City Symphony’s subject matter and black and white material (and also to Angerame’s partially manual film techniques). There’s an urban, utopian mood in Continuum that would fit just as well in the late 1930s as it does in the late 1980s.
Angerame’s city works untiringly probe the textures that present themselves to his camera: they show patterns and inscriptions on walls and metal surfaces, focus on fissures in cement, lose themselves in shadowy passers-by and smoke rising out of machines. By stylizing the urban everyday, Angerame translates it back into its emblematic quality in a series of astonishing signs. His film language follows—as in the fundamental cinematographic dramatization of white (sun) and black (tar) in Continuum, for example—a strict sensual order.
Premonition (1995) and In the Course of Human Events (1997) are cinematic twin stars that illustrate Angerame’s construction/destruction philosophy most clearly. The first film captures for one last time on film the emptied Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco, which was damaged beyond repair in the 1989 earthquake, right before it was torn down. Angerame sees Premonition as a “daydream,” as a melancholic preview (and at the same time a continuous cinematic review) of an unstoppable annihilation. This film is, according to the director, “like the memory of something that has yet to take place.” In the Course of Human Events is also constructed as an elegy: a tragedy of annihilation, a documentation of the demolition of the Embarcadero Freeway.
Similar to the filmmaker Peter Hutton, Angerame stylizes his urban landscapes into half-abstract, extremely painterly compositions. The ghostly calm that hovers over Premonition and the intense interest in construction details are reminiscent of the austere architecture films of Heinz Emigholz. Angerame films buildings, streets, and the construction of bridges by making them visually dynamic and rendering them strange in a sketchily, futuristic way: they become cinematic science non-fiction. In Premonition the camera traces curves in the street and the lines of metal bridge struts in both wide shots and close-ups, creating the impression of a seemingly omnipresent camera in the film’s jumps between wide-angle shots and close-ups. Small details of movement break out of the unmoving, solidified world of this film: the wind blows a piece of paper over the street; two men pause far away at the water’s edge; buildings are mirrored in an imperceptibly trembling water surface.
The hyperrealistic soundtrack that Angerame employs in Premonition is calculated to irritate: the cries of seagulls, a car alarm, a flag flapping in the wind—these are all infused with a sense of the unreal. Moreover, Angerame’s soundscapes—and not only in this film—tend to a create synthetic, musical effects and heighten his films’ pathos-filled moods.
Angerame’s oeuvre is rich with antitheses to the City Symphony. The early El Train Film, for example, autobiographically motivated and already employing an advanced editing technique, deals with the utopia of continuous movement, of life as a journey. In the mid-1970s, Angerame relates, he lived in northern Chicago right by the tracks, where he could always hear the trains: “One could say they defined our life.” Accompanied by a delicate old folk song, Angerame’s El Train Film collects shots out moving trains and of the oncoming rails that cut through the wide, empty landscape in the sun: cinema as an awareness of life, as an expression of a lost counter-culture.
The dilapidated, the ruined, and the thrown-away play a major role in Angerame’s cinema. One can always make a film out of a pair of disposable objects. With his 1984 film Hit the Turnpike!, Angerame experiments with an autobiographically ironic variation on the song “Hit the Road Jack”: the three-minute clip compiles in quick succession fragments of euphemistically formulated rejection letters, regretful replies, and negative reviews. Angerame productively uses the detritus of his filmmaker correspondence in a moving collection of cryptic signs, signatures, and logos.
In Battle Stations—A Navel Adventure (2001), one of the filmmaker’s most hermetic works, Angerame has his friend Leyna d’Ancona, dressed in a sequin top, perform a belly dance in a public space before the San Francisco Cinematheque in the harbor of Hunter’s Point. He then projects onto her body images from the location—not only artist studios, a train museum, and a police laboratory, but also of the largest toxic waste dump in the city. In this ambience of shipyard work and industrial and possibly radioactive waste, Angerame creates a kind of music video in which all manner of strange and even improvised documentary events take place. The filmmaker Bruce Conner, for example, crosses the harbor’s forbidden area with a Geiger counter and measures the level of radiation in the danger zone. They found, Angerame writes in the notes to the film, no traces of radioactivity in their measurements.
One could call Consume a partner film to Battle Stations (the artist himself uses the term “passion” for both films). Angerame’s experiment with stroboscopic cinema, a kind of trance film inspired by Theodore Roszak’s novel Flicker, interweaves eroticism and orientalism anew in the ecstatic performance of a dancer (Zhanna Kleiman) before the camera. Kleiman is exposed naked in the flickering light, percussive composition, and Angerame’s frenetic montage, which merges its protagonist (literally from top to bottom) into a vision that flows seamlessly from the concrete to the abstract and back into the concrete. This montage layers the ritualistic movement studies of the heroine’s body within each other so that they attain an artificial, graphic quality.
Cinematic speed is not the least of Angerame’s many passions. In A Ticket Home (1982) he works so quickly with concrete images that they morph into partial abstractions. There’s a droning in this film similar to that in the films of Dietmar Brehms, like the sound of far-off traffic, and quiet voices seem to be singing some strange song; a vague unease settles in. The film fastens onto figures and details: faces and wet streets, a pregnant woman, graffiti and people in an office; the flickering lane line of a highway, the sparkling of water. Angerame’s films are simultaneously banal and charged, familiar and full of secrets. They offer a phenomenology of the everyday. The filmmaker’s view is everywhere at once: in living rooms, above the clouds, in the bustle of the city, and in open nature. Angerame’s film poems are impressionistic, volatile, always-changing.
Angerame experimented a lot in his early work, some of which proved to be a dead end. Scratches, Inc. (1975) indicates directions the filmmaker would not pursue later. This short work sets an abstract scratch animation, in the tradition of Len Lyes and Robert Breers, to an atonal soundtrack that’s just as scratched as the image. Scratches, Inc. is a dance of white lines and points of light on a black field: a painting of movement.
In 2004 Angerame’s work took a surprising turn: Anaconda Targets, a found footage film made of one continuous, unchanged source, devoid of any formal complications. The film attacks the abstraction of war and delves into language—in marked contrast to almost all the filmmaker’s other works (with the exception of the answering machine vignette Phone/Film Portraits). Angerame doesn’t claim Anaconda Targets as his own: at the end of the film we read “Presented by Dominic Angerame.” The material comes from the cockpit of a war helicopter in the US bombardment of northeast Afghanistan in March 2002: video recordings of “Operation Anaconda,” which the American military had organized against suspected Al-Qaeda and Taliban strongholds. By presenting the images without commentary, Angerame assumes the perspective of the aggressors, who aim for and kill living targets. The machine’s eye only sees outlines.
In Anaconda Targets Angerame again takes up one of his favorite themes: destruction. But this time he takes the reverse approach: away from details and the desire to penetrate the effects of annihilation, and towards an overview, the view from above, towards distance. Anaconda Targets is a document of the banality of the labor of modern war. On a black and white video screen from a great height what happens on the ground appears highly schematic. An off-screen voice remarks that one of the buildings is a mosque and is not to be shot at. We see cars attempting (vainly) to flee, to escape the bombs. We hear the soldiers’ heavy breathing and excited voices as they comment on dropping the bombs and hitting the targets. The computer has the last word, says the war and film theorist Paul Virilio. Everything seems so simple on the monitors: no blood, no bodies, no ruins, only stable gray and white and the quietly rising blossoms of the explosives on the enemy landscape. Anaconda Targets is an inverse snuff movie, a critical study of violence through mere presentation.
If cinema, according to Cocteau, means to see continuously death in one’s work, then Angerame’s films are better suited than others to illustrate this. Transitoriness is one of Angerame’s recurring themes, or, more precisely, the phantomlike, ghostly, and the past of the things, places, and figures recorded on film. Angerame also seems moved by a nostalgia for early cinema, and by an old love for the classic avant garde. I’d Rather Be in Paris begins with a short, doubly-reflexive scene: an editing table with film images that show a man with a camera. Then an agitated sea whose surf slams into the breakwater. These images are silent, totally factual, and occasionally also poetic, as if the Lumière brothers had filmed them. Nothing is “natural” in cinema, not even nature itself. The cinema of Dominic Angerame, libidinous precisely in its morbidity, sinks at the end of this film into the white of the negative, which is nothing more than the chemical reverse of night: in the end, for Angerame, white and black are interchangeable. This journey ends where it began, in the film studio: a man works on film images and hangs film strips up to dry. We sense the cold season through the window: the bare trees of the courtyard are the counter-thesis to Angerame’s sensorily “hot” perceptions, but at the same time, as the last image of this film, also a part of them.
Stefan Grissemann is a film critic and the author of books on Michael Haneke, Edgar G. Ulmer, and Robert Frank. He heads the culture section of the weekly magazine profile.
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Accardi, Catherine, Dominic Angerame - A San Francisco Filmmaker Speaks on Chiaroscuro & More, L'Italo-Americano, January 7, 2016
Incite Magazine #3 The Brutal Reality of Change by Dominic Angerame 2013;
Left Curve Magazine #35 The Brutal Reality of Change by Dominic Angerame 2011;
Left Curve Magazine #34 Experimental Cinema in Havana by Dominic Angerame 2010;
Viennale Film Festival Catalog 2006;
Havana Film Festival Catalog 2006;
Left Curve Magazine #29 Anaconda Targets by Dominic Angerame 2005;
Left Curve Magazine #27 Notes on the Exhibition "Ce Que Arrive" curated by Paul Virilio by Dominic Angerame 2003;
Wide Angel Magazine, City Scapes I Volume 19 #4 (October, 1997)—"The
City As Motion Picture: Notes on Some California City Films"—Scott MacDonald;
The Exploding Eye: A Re-Visionary History of American Experimental Film by
Wheeler Dixon (1997)—"Epilogue"—Wheeler Dixon;
SF Weekly May 28-June 3, 1997—Night Crawler—"Review of In the Course of
Human by Dominic Angerame"—Silke Tudor;
New Screen 11—Program Notes—"Premonition by Dominic Angerame"—Images
Film Festival, Toronto, 1997;
San Francisco Bay Guardian –December 20, 1995 "Greatest Hits Premonition
by Dominic Angerame" is chosen as one of the ten best films of the year—Kurt
Oxygen: A Spirited Literary Magazine, Number 14 (1995)—"Imaginary Light—the
film Premonition by Dominic Angerame"—uncredited;
City Magazine, City Faces—Cinema, April, 1992—"Portrait of a City Run Amok,
Dominic Angerame’s Cinematic Sights—Reena M. Jana;
Left Curve Number 12, (1991)—"Review of Dominic Angerame’s film Continuum"—Ronald
Millenium Film Journal—Summer 1991—"The Endless Loop of the Human Continuum:
Dominic Angerame’s Deconstruction Sight"—by Barbara Jaspersen Voorhees;
Media Arts—Spring-Summer, 1990—"Interview with Dominic Angerame"—Morrie
North Beach Now—Volume 1, Number 1 (1987)—"Interview with Dominic Angerame"—Micael
Cinematograph: A Journal of Film and Media Art, Volume 2 (1986)—"Interview
with Dominic Angerame"—Scott Stark
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