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March 5 - March 22, 2012

Ernie Gehr, in Two Parts

A luminary member of the post-Brakhage generation of American avant-garde filmmakers, Ernie Gehr (b. 1941) is today among the most influential artists working within, yet always reaching far beyond, the structuralist tradition that reinvigorated experimental cinema in the late 1960s and 1970s. Gehr’s early career was driven by a profound interrogation of cinematic form that extends across a long series of revelatory 16mm masterpieces. Among them are now iconic works such as Serene Velocity (1970) and his lyrical debut film Morning (1968), deeply engaging abstract films that each transform interior space into a dynamic camera obscura, rhythmic light boxes carefully designed to challenge habitual perception. Other major films such as Shift (1972-74) and Side/Walk/Shuttle (1991) use remarkably simple, strategic camera placement – pointed out an apartment window and fixed within an exterior glass elevator, respectively – to complexly engage the world outside, turning the spatio-temporality of urban experience both inside out and upside down and resulting in exhilarating, at times dizzying, cine-portraits of New York City and San Francisco. Equally important to Gehr’s film work is his fascination with the earliest chapters of film history as the fount of a pure, primal mode of cinema unshackled by conventions. Eureka (1974), which lyrically re-photographs a 1902 travelogue shot from a San Francisco streetcar, offers the purest expression of Gehr’s deep love of early cinema as a source of a joyous formal inventiveness.

Beginning in 2001, Gehr completely shifted his production from film to video while applying the same playfully rigorous curiosity to the digital as the cinematic, seeking to harness the very essence, however ineluctable, of the “new” medium. Together with Ken Jacobs, Gehr counts among the very few artists who have proven to be equally inventive and expressive in video as film. In an attempt to keep up with Gehr’s remarkably prolific but still rarely discussed output, this two part program includes a major showcase of work made over the past few years, including three videos presented as world premieres. As a compliment, Gehr, who is a visiting professor in Spring 2011 in Harvard’s Visual and Environmental Studies Department, has curated a program of early cinema, drawing from his own extensive collection.

With open arms and with great excitement, the HFA welcomes back Ernie Gehr for two very special evenings. – Haden Guest

Visit Ernie Gehr's exhibit Picture Taking in the Carpenter Center's Sert Gallery from February 14 - April 1.

Special Event Tickets $12 - Ernie Gehr in Person
Monday March 5 at 7pm

An Evening of Early Cinema Selected by Ernie Gehr

This program will include 16mm film prints I acquired from various sources since the early 1970’s. Most often my purchasing guide was early release dates – the earlier the better I kept telling myself – closer to the Big Bang! And then also films by Méliès as well as titles or descriptions that attracted my curiosity. Why early cinema? Early cinema was sometimes silly, crude, primitive, occasionally even wild, like the actions of an energetic impulsive child left to its own devices. Of course, in its youthful naivety it badly mimicked what older “kids” had been doing better… but it also took chances, was adventurous, and oblivious to danger. Here and there it would run amok, be a daredevil, and in the process discover some of its own potentials. What is there to lose? See where that takes you. Méliès? Yes, but there is much more to it. Additional titles may be added to this program at the last minute. Not to be missed.
– Ernie Gehr

Seeing Boston

US 1906, 16mm, b/w, 7 min

Facial Expressions by Loney Haskell

US 1897, 16mm, b/w, 2 min

Little Tich

France 1907, 16mm, b/w, 6 min

Experimental Railroad

US 1903, 16mm, b/w, 46 sec


The Big Swallow

Directed by James Williamson. UK 1901, 16mm, b/w, 1 min


The Impossible Voyage (Le voyage à travers l’impossible)

Directed by George Méliès. France 1904, 16mm, hand-colored b/w, 24 min


Slippery Jim

France 1910, 16mm, b/w, 10 min



Italy 1906,16mm, b/w, 6 min


NYC 1898

USA 1898, 16mm, b/w, 4 min


The Land Beyond the Sunset

Directed by Harold M. Shaw. USA 1898, 16mm, b/w, 4 min


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Special Event Tickets $12 - Ernie Gehr in Person
Thursday March 22 at 8pm

This screening accompanies the panel "Beyond Film: The Video Art of Ernie Gehr" which takes place at the Society For Cinema and Media Studies Conference on Wednesday, March 21 at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel & Towers.

Work in Progress

Directed by Ernie Gehr, Appearing in Person
US 2012, digital video, color, 32 min

In this fascinating exploration of the rich, elusive qualities of the video surface, Gehr layers transparent and translucent repetitions of a complex urban street scene to form a mesmerizing tableau.


Directed by Ernie Gehr, Appearing in Person
US 2009, digital video, b/w & color, 29 min

A newly reedited version of Gehr’s celebrated triptych meditation on pre- and early cinema and the magical properties of the moving image.

Auto-Collidor XV
Auto-Collidor XVI

Directed by Ernie Gehr, Appearing in Person
US 2011, digital video, color, 9 min & 13 min

Gehr’s on-going but still unscreened Auto-Collidor series is an important extension of his long interest in the automobile as a privileged “vehicle” for his visual imagination. While Auto-Collidor XV embracing a pure painterly abstraction – Agnes Martin at 150 mph – Auto-Collidor XVI plays a mechanized origami game with the image, collapsing vehicles into hypnotic, accordion-like instruments.

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