June 14 at 7 pm, Light Industry: White House Butler Down

by jhoberman.

A Pedagogical Projection presented by J. Hoberman

As a reviewer and a teacher, I tend to think in double bills. Two movies considered together invariably enrich each other, particularly if they are shown simultaneously. This is something I have done in various ways (superimposed, alternated, side by side) for various reasons (to save time, to force a dialogue between the movies, to just see what it looks like). I’m as much a member of the audience as anybody.

These situations where the movies interrogate each other and speak for themselves are a form of “pedagogical cinema”—a term Scott MacDonald uses to characterize the ethos of the SUNY Binghamton Cinema Department during the years when I was a student there. Scott writes of the idea fostered by Larry Gottheim and Ken Jacobs that “film study and filmmaking were essentially the same thing: one studied film history and made films in order to learn more about the medium.” I was Ken’s projectionist when he was in the habit of using his classes to create impromptu equivalents of Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son, but what really made a tremendous impression on me was his 1972 multiple projection piece A Good Night for the Movies.

As an adjunct at NYU, I began orchestrating pedagogical projections (or as the staff called them, “stunt projections”) in the early ‘90s, using various combinations of 16mm and video, and continued the practice at Cooper Union. These projections were always site-specific and pragmatic, based on the formats and equipment at hand. Some have used multiple monitors; others have involved laptops. Jeff Shandler and I installed a triple projection of The Jazz Singer at the Jewish Museum in 2003; several years ago I was given the big screen at the Walter Reade for a one night only performance of Land Passion War of the Dead Christ Worlds.

Although never random, such couplings (or triplings) are unpredictable and hence experimental. They don’t work equally well but they seldom fail to produce unanticipated coincidences and precipitate unforeseen correspondences. Inherently overstimulating, double projection usually enriches both films. In fact, the duller the material the better it works. Movies bleed into each other in unexpected ways. When things are really cooking, they actually merge—the headiest moments are when it is briefly impossible to know which movie is which.

I can imagine projecting a version of White House Butler Down in class, in which case my introduction would probably draw on material from two published essays, “Cine Obamarama: The Presiding-While-Black Scenario” (Film Comment) and “Here There Is No Why: The Trial of 12 Years a Slave” (Harper’s). The artistry, if there is any, in a pedagogical projection has to do with the selection of the material and the nature of the juxtaposition. Although I would most likely not show 12 Years a Slave with another current movie I think I see a way in which it could be usefully projected onto The Birth of a Nation. – JH



Light Industry

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 6:30pm.