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Shearer (and Earlier Film-makers) Magic

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Rachel Shearer, Hold Still Rachel sheaer, Hold Still

Shearer's selection and sequencing of these 'found images' draws you back for repeated looking. Odd connections form between disparate sources; the harmless and coincidental become sinister and calculated; narratives emerge weaving in and out of the different film sources. You start imposing your own plot the more you visit the show.

Auckland

 

Rachel Shearer
Hold Still

 

2 March 2011 - 2 April 2011

The Film Archive is a venue where because it is next to ARTSPACE it tends to get overlooked, forgotten or under-rated. However its programme, often presented earlier in Wellington, is always worth keeping an eye on - for every now and then a show surfaces that is really stunning, that is truly exemplary. This Shearer film is one of those.

Shearer is highly regarded as a sound artist, and not that well known for her moving image projects. This film is a composite of snippets from very old home movies made in the late nineteen thirties by three women of independent financial means. Shearer has assembled and edited 16 mm film shot by Ethel Garden, Lucy Mills and Violet Winstone - plus she has superimposed a churning Gothic film noir organ soundtrack.

Shearer’s flickering and blurry film is quite short, but it is complicated with very early colour mixed with black and white, and organised into nine sections. Each of the three camerawomen - now dead - can be easily identified.

Lucy Mills contributes film of an ice skater confidently whirling about a small iced-over lake in a remote part of the South Island, and aerial footage of snow peaked mountains, flooded rivers and farm homesteads, while Violet Winstone made colour film of a child kicking a beach ball suspended over a cot, another woman filming a large waterfall, and the 1940 Waitangi Day celebrations on the beach at Russell.

However the key provider of really memorable imagery is Ethel Garden. Her shots of women running up and down piers (to which are tethered toppled boats), and shadowy staircases or murkily ominous corners in plush suburban residences have a sensibility that hints at Hitchcock (whose films I suspect she had seen) - and are a precursor of the David Lynch to come. With her organ solo soundtrack Shearer really exploits Garden’s awareness of the uncanny. There is also an amusing interest in bored little girls; playing by repeatedly poking a small suit of armour with a stick; or inanely smiling at the camera while furiously galloping on a rocking horse.

Shearer’s selection and sequencing of these ‘found images’ draws you back for repeated looking. Odd connections form between disparate sources; the harmless and coincidental become sinister and calculated; narratives emerge weaving in and out of the different film sources. You start imposing your own plot the more you visit the show.

This exceptional exhibition happens to be co-ordinated with the Auckland Arts Festival, and is well worth making a trek to see. It is special.

John Hurrell

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