To Be Surreal

Surrealism is associated by most people with a group of eccentric, self-promoting male artists from the 1930s on: Dali, Andre Breton, et al. But the driving motifs of the movement -- the dreamscape, fragmentation, irony -- have fueled many other forms. (A cursory glance at the Teletubbies will confirm the reach of this influence.) While old-school surrealists were busy canonizing Woman, actual women were also busy -- expropriating these motifs for their own art as painters and, more recently, filmmakers, as shown in the richly varied shorts program "Radical Re-Presentation: Women, Surrealism, and Film" at the Cinematheque.

The first show (March 7) resurrects Maya Deren's seminal Meshes of the Afternoon (1943). This film is too familiar to treat here; suffice it to say that Deren's subjugation of the narrative to internal rhythms cleared the path for many later experimental filmmakers, male and female. Mona Hatoum's Measures of Distance (1988) is an atmospheric dialogue between a separated Palestinian mother and daughter. Chick Strand's Mujer de Milfuegos (1976) strikes a note of whimsical defiance in its view of a Mexican woman whose powerful dreams differ radically from her dull domestic life.

Local filmmaker Cathy Lee Crane leads off the second show (March 14) with White City (1994), a slight but effective mood piece in which a woman is shadowed by her double. Gunvor Nelson's clever Take Off (1972) shows the literal deconstruction of a stripper who removes not only her clothes but her head, arms, and all the rest. Abigail Child's Covert Action (1984) is a dizzying collage of found footage and multiple overdubs that might unhinge even seasoned MTV watchers. Barbara Hammer's too-brief Dyketactics (1974) envisions a Dionysian world of writhing, naked lesbians. A standout of the program is Ngozi Onwurah's The Body Beautiful (1991), which transgresses every imaginable social and body norm in its picture of the tortured relations between a mother who's had a radical mastectomy and her racially mixed daughter.

A highlight of the third show (March 21) is Joseph Cornell's legendary Rose Hobart (1939), a hilarious pink-tinted rethinking of a Columbia B-movie called East of Borneo. And Strand reappears with Elasticity (1976), an engaging mix of interior worlds and industrial footage that shows the unfettered power of the female creator. The Sunday screenings all begin at 7:30 p.m. at the San Francisco Art Institute, 800 Chestnut (at Jones), S.F. Admission is $3.50-7; call 558-8129.

-- Gary Morris

 
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