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New Modernist Neo-Psychedelic Ethnographic Filmmaking

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on May 20, 2009 7:00PM

2009_5_20benrussell.jpg That's the colorful description UIC professor/filmmaker Ben Russell gives this program of his work. It's a juicy and often assaultive performance combining documentary images with handmade electronics and manipulated film projections. His "Trypps" series consists of several short films (the longest is 12 minutes) exploring how the juxtaposition of relatively benign sounds and images can create charged, terrifying fusions. Trippy, indeed. For example, in Black and White Trypps Number Three, footage of a concert audience is layered with different soundtracks. The switches in music create the impression that the audience's mood has changed.

What you see is not always what you get; or, as Russell told The Lumière Reader, "A representation is not the thing it represents, and so I set out to produce something else.” Other Trypps films use footage of Dubai factory workers, abstract explosions and a Richard Pryor stand-up routine.

The highlight of Saturday night's show at the Heaven Gallery will undoubtedly be The Black and White God. This 20-minute performance uses two 16mm projectors, modified lenses, film loops and a light-sensitive synth to go way beyond the outer limits of Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Nonstop sensory overload. The program starts at 7:00 pm; for more info contact Roots & Culture.

2009_5_20soderbergh.jpg Take out "neo-psychedelic" from our headline and that's an apt summary of Steven Soderbergh's new movie The Girlfriend Experience, opening Friday at the Landmark Century. Building from the strategies of Bubble, Soderbergh cast nonactors (including porn star Sasha Grey, playing an escort who specializes in giving her clients the illusion of having a girlfriend). And instead of shooting a traditional screenplay there was a series of controlled improvisations. Asked in an interview why he decided to make such a film, Soderbergh answered, "In this case, I think it was just an opportunity to explore some ideas about how we define pleasure ... the idea of money is really interesting to me, when you begin to think about how that started ... How do we ascribe value to certain things?"

Soderbergh never seems to run out of steam. Earlier this year he stunned us with Che, an epic we won't soon forget. The Informant, with Matt Damon and Scott Bakula, opens in October. And he's already at work on at least three future projects: a 3-D musical starring Catherine Zeta Jones as Cleopatra; Moneyball, about Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, with Brad Patt; and (we kid you not) a Liberace biopic featuring Michael Douglas. Like Ben Russell, Soderbergh never met a juxtaposition he couldn't make bizarrely compelling.