On Monday, September 30, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) opened another season of its Modern Monday series with a selection of screenings from the recently defunct One Minute Film Fest. More organic and informal than the name suggests, the fest was an annual gathering, party, and film screening. Over the course of its ten year run (2003–2012), more than 600 films — most of them amateur in nature, artistic in spirit, uneven in achievement — were projected at Jason Simon’s and Moyra Davey’s “barn cinema” in upstate New York. By its conclusion, the fest had drawn hundreds of artists toting short videos on tapes and CDs, among them Lana Lin, Andrea Fraser, Chris Marker, and Bill Stone. It all added up to a unique record — Simon and Davey accepted and screened all submissions, none were turned away. (MASS MoCA opened an exhibition on the film series earlier this year.)
Drawing from this huge body of work, which must not have been a fun or easy task, Simon and Davey defined six categories in which around 3–5 shorts were screened at this Modern Monday: Cheaters (going beyond a minute, which apparently many did), animals, Americans (as in Robert Frank), movies about movies, poses, and exquisite corpse.
One film — in the movies about movies category — looped a scene from a French movie with a scene from a Laurel and Hardy feature. “Can I see that again,” the frenchman asks? Cut immediately to Laurel getting bonked on the head. “Can I see that again?” Bonk. Three times it’s loopily looped before the cycle breaks — and we watch a drywall being knocked out in reverse order while Bill Stone (the film’s maker) sleeps on a couch. “It takes sixty seconds to know what you’re looking at and then it’s over,” Bill Stone remarked at the event.
Andrea Fraser worked the opposite way. Her piece, a sly one in the cheaters domain, lifted a one minute excerpt from a Scarborough Country debate over her ”Untitled” (2003) video, in which she and a man have sex on video after money exchanged hands. (Jerry Saltz supported her, opining that if an artist deems something art, then ipso facto it is art.)
These films are different from a lot of what you may find on YouTube, which started up two years after the fest, or on the majority of the one minute (or so) film festivals: Filminute, FilmOneFest, The One Minutes. For the most part, these shorts are characterized by a strenuous use of time. Given sixty seconds, most go about using their allotment of time to tell a story one minute in length, which is important when you are seeking to tell a narrative.
Few of the One Minute films attempted a narrative. Its films were more an experiment with time than an experiment in time. The films, art films, often seemed to toy with the experience of time — how it passes, feels, how it is can be modified or fractures — than tell a story defined by time. Not all of them did this. Nor were the majority of the films rousing successes I would watch by themselves, though this was not the goal of the fest of course. The artists, by and large, did not set out to make a film for a museum or gallery. Still, they managed to do a very interesting thing: expand and neutralize their own prescribed limits.
Modern Mondays run Mondays at MoMA (11 West 53rd Street, Midtown, Manhattan) through the year. Other upcoming Modern Monday events include An Evening With Christine Sun Kim and the premiere screening of of a new “preservation/reconstruction” of Bruce Conner’s Crossroads (1976).