A short piece about a film made in Los Angeles. The L Magazine, September 17.
Water and Power was directed by the still-living American filmmaker Pat O’Neill, who was born in Los Angeles in 1939. He began making 16mm films in 1963 and designed special effects for Hollywood films for several years before and after completing his effects-laden independent 35mm feature. O’Neill continued to work in 35mm post-Water and Power, including for his celebrated film The Decay of Fiction, until transitioning to digital video in 2009.
A 35mm print of Water and Power recently preserved by the Academy Film Archive will screen on Sunday, September 21 in New York at Anthology Film Archives within the film series "Lines and Nodes: Media, Infrastructure, and Aesthetics." The series is connected to a symposium of the same name that will occur at New York University on Friday, September 19. The goal of these events, as per the series website, is to “bring together artists and scholars to examine the mediated and aesthetic dimensions of extraction and infrastructure” and to explore a range of topics including “globalization, transmission, digitization, territorialization, labor migration, displacement, sustainability, [and] security.”
The “Lines and Nodes” films that I have seen and liked from among the series’s six film programs include Daybreak Express, Tectonics, Canal, The Path of Oil, and Trade Tattoo.
Water and Power will screen in the series’s closing program, called “Water,” along with two recent short films, 28 Outfalls and Gowanus Canal, which were directed by Adam Diller and by Sarah Christman, respectively. The two younger artists speak about their work below. Their words are followed by a quote from Leo Goldsmith, one of the programmers of “Lines and Nodes,” about how the session’s three films address each other.
Adam Diller: 28 Outfalls developed from a study of Combined Sewer Outflow (CSO) sites. After repeatedly visiting the 28 sites with the highest flow during a six-month period, I started to focus less on the obvious elements of these settings (including waste) and more on a quality that I found common to all of them—a sensation of somehow being both inside and outside the city. My film focuses on this peripheral vibe, with the thought that connecting with these CSO sites can give a visceral experience of the city’s infrastructure and mode of relating to its environment.
Sarah Christman: In 2010 I completed a year-long study of a public beach in Jamaica Bay with a 16mm film called Broad Channel. Gowanus Canal resulted from my subsequent collaboration with the New York-based biologist and artist Jenifer Wightman, who creates living sculptures from mud and water samples of polluted waterways. Jeni saw Broad Channel and invited me to film her sculptures - not to document her process, but as a departure point for my own film.
I combined 16mm time-lapse imagery with underwater audio recordings by filmmaker and sound artist Kevin T. Allen to transport the viewer below the surface of one of New York City’s most contaminated bodies of water, where microorganisms thrive amidst manmade waste. In making the film, I explored my ongoing fascination with the exchanges between people, ecology, and industry that take place within urban spaces.
Leo Goldsmith: 28 Outfalls, Gowanus Canal, and Water and Power all share an approach to depicting landscapes (or aquascapes) that accounts for their palimpsest-like nature, revealing the changes that these spaces have seen over time, the complexities of ecosystems, and the relations between the human and the microbial. In doing so, they also all assume an oblique position that falls somewhere between documentary and experimental cinema — and between research and aesthetics — that is quite crucial both to our greater series and to the symposium that inspired it.
All three filmmakers address the issue of water’s relationship to geographic and economic specificities of cityscapes in exploratory, challenging, and altogether remarkable ways. Pat O’Neill’s film is especially important, as he’s been bringing his unique vision to bear on issues of landscape and infrastructure since 1976’s Sidewinder’s Delta, or even as early as 1964’s Bump City. It’s a rare treat to be able to screen the Academy Film Archive’s restored 35mm print of Water and Power in New York, where his work has been sadly neglected in recent years. We hope that it screens here more often in the future.