Co-Founder and Director of Light Industry, a venue for film and electronic arts in Brooklyn, Thomas Beard recently curated “The Unfinished Film,” on view at Barbara Gladstone Gallery [through July 29]. The exhibition showcases films that appear as fragments in their final form either deliberately or unintentionally. Since 2008, Beard and partner Ed Halters have curated weekly events, screenings and lectures across New York. A.i.A. caught up with Beard as he “couchsurfs” the summer away, preparing for the opening of a new space this fall.
How was the concept for “The Unfinished Film” initiated? Was there a work that set the thematic off for you?
Well, when Barbara invited me to organize the summer show, she mentioned that it would come on the heels of the gallery’s Jack Smith exhibition. Immediately I thought of Batman Dracula, Smith’s unfinished film collaboration with Andy Warhol, and from there a whole string of associations occurred. My mind wandered to unfinished projects like Erich von Stroheim’s Queen Kelly, Sergei Eisenstein’s Que Viva Mexico!, Hollis Frampton’s Magellan, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s White Dust from Mongolia… suddenly I realized that all of these pieces constituted a kind of subterranean genre, and an organizing principle for the show came into view.
In the spirit of the show’s title, “The Unfinished Film,” were there political circumstances, estates or obstacles, which might have rendered the show unfinished?
I suppose all curators have phantom checklists of those works that, for whatever reason, couldn’t be included in exhibitions they organized. What’s remarkable in this case, though, is that the obstacles I faced trying to arrange certain loans actually made the show more interesting.
When I was told, for instance, that the Film Museum in Munich only presented its collection of fragments and rushes from Orson Welles’s legendary unfinished films in the context of complete Welles retrospectives, I was crestfallen. How could I put together a show about unfinished films without Welles, the filmmaker so famously associated with never-completed projects that buckled under the weight of his outsized ambitions?
Luckily, in the course of my research, I uncovered Orson Welles in Spain, Albert and David Maysles’ unfinished portrait of the filmmaker on the set of his unfinished The Other Side of the Wind, and Giorgio Agamben’s “The Six Most Beautiful Minutes in the History of Cinema,” which is the philosopher’s brief but quite beautiful take on Welles’ (also unfinished) Don Quixote. The former was screened in the gallery’s black box theater and the latter was published in the show’s catalog, and they were ultimately more germane to the show’s concerns than the material I was trying to have loaned from Munich. In the end it was not Welles’s work that was included the exhibition, but rather the image, the idea of Orson Welles.
The entire show consists of over 1,100 minutes of footage. How do you delimit the unfinished works that qualified for this show?
The simple answer is that the material often delimits itself quite naturally. For example Harry Smith only completed a small fragment of his planned adaption of The Wizard of Oz, so what’s included in the show is all that’s left behind. More to the point, though, the works I chose were ones that somehow offered insight into the practices and processes of some of our greatest filmmakers: Pasolini’s peculiar brand of mythologically-inflected Marxism is on view in his Notes on an African Orestes, while Joseph Cornell’s scenario Monsieur Phot, with its wonderfully oneiric structure, would foreshadow the later, far more famous film works like Rose Hobart.
And though there are many hours worth of material to view, I wanted to make the program manageable by organizing it into a series of daily, scheduled screenings, many of which would repeat throughout a given a week. The decision was very much a reaction against the pervasive tendency to simply exhibit film and video by slapping the work on a DVD, setting it to loop, and leaving it to fill up a room.
What in your background prepared you to open Light Industry?
When I moved to Austin for school I was lucky to stumble upon Cinematexas, where I worked in my late teens and early twenties. At that time in my life I was interested in film, but my sense of what cinema was would be thoroughly upended in 2002, the first year I volunteered at the festival. Cinematexas’ curatorial ambitions were massive, yet it was a very homegrown operation, and the DIY ethos that defined it would color all my future endeavors.
There was a [Cuban filmmaker] Santiago Alvarez retrospective, rare screenings of Godard and [Swiss filmmaker and wife of Godard] Anne-Marie Mieville’s France/Tour/Detour/Two/Children, a [artistic collective] Forcefield performance, [contemporary artist video resource] Video Data Bank presented selections from its stellar survey of early video art… It was also the first time I saw work by the likes of Seth Price, Walid Ra’ad, and Leslie Thornton.
When I moved to New York for graduate school (Cinema Studies at NYU, its own kind of preparation), I took over [Rhizome executive director] Lauren Cornell’s former post at Ocularis, a screening series in Williamsburg, where I would host shows every week. At that time I was also working on outside projects like MoMA’s Another Wave: Global Queer Cinema, which was the first time I’d curated a show in that kind of institutional context. So it was with knowledge of what worked—and, just as crucially, what failed—with these other models of film exhibition that Ed Halter and I began Light Industry.
As the new space for Light Industry opens in the fall, how will it change?
The real change is stability. Light Industry has had something of a nomadic character in its first few years, moving from our original space in a Sunset Park industrial complex to a former department store in downtown Brooklyn, and then couch-surfing at venues ranging from Anthology Film Archives to Cleopatra’s. Now we have a five-year lease.
What is Light Industry’s relationship with its soon-to-be roommates, Triple Canopy and The Public School New York?
We’ve actually been roommates before. For most of last year, all three groups shared a storefront on Livingston Street, and it worked out so well that we decided to look for a new space together. All three projects began around the same time, and each is very much dedicated to rethinking cultural forms in transition: the cinema, the magazine, the alternative pedagogical platform. There is enough overlap so that we can fruitfully cross-cultivate our respective audiences, but not so much that we’re stepping on each other’s toes.
With the new space, what’s next in the plans for Light Industry?
We’re planning to expand our program to include a bit of publishing, but otherwise the fundamental structure of Light Industry will remain the same. I’m very skeptical of growth as a presupposed ideal for nonprofit arts organizations, so while one option would be to expand the number of events we host, or to increase our staff, we instead want to move forward by keeping the setup as minimal—and, in turn, as agile—as possible.
Favorite film! Go! Why?
I wish I knew! But how could I choose between, say, Alexander Kluge and Russ Meyer, or countless others? What I can say is this: that I’ve seen Kenneth Anger’s Puce Moment more times than any other film. The drawings for Puce Women—the imagined, unmade feature for which Puce Moment is the only completed sequence—is a centerpiece of the Gladstone show. Anger once said that making a film is like casting a spell.