Michael Wallin

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As apprentice to Bruce Baillie, I count him as primary inspiration, and my first films (MENDOCINO and PHOEBE AND JAN, and the later reworked TALL GRASS) show his influence. Yet my cinematic muses have been many, and include renegades like Kenneth Anger and enigmas like Andy Warhol. My films are experimental, but above all personal, and my wish is for them to both challenge and provide access for anyone to enter and find themselves. They deal in realms spiritual (SLEEPWALK and KALI'S REVUE) and earthly (MONITORING THE UNSTABLE EARTH, FEARFUL SYMMETRY and ALONG THE WAY), the latter a sort of topological triptych. Most recently, and with my second career as a psychotherapist, my focus has turned towards the psychological and sexual, or psycho-sexual. I am interested in exploring my sexuality as a gay man, but I am not a gay filmmaker. I am an artist and a human being! This investigation began over twenty years ago with THE PLACE BETWEEN OUR BODIES and has resurfaced with BLACK SHEEP BOY. These two films look at similar issues (desire, fantasy, the male body, the yearning for connection) but (literally) through very different lenses: one, that of a naive, head-over-heels in love 27-year-old, the other, that of a (hopefully) wiser,yet perhaps more cynical, 47-year-old. Between these came my only foray into found-footage, DECODINGS, perhaps my most artistically successful film. This film is "autobiographical" as well, and reflects the beginnings of my more mature (hopefully) artistic stance, giving less to the viewer on first inspection but ultimately providing a richer and more moving experience.

Mendocino

A personal documentary filmed during a summer spent in Mendocino, California, featuring portraits of a painter and a unicyclist. Images that consistently resonated in my mind, music that always played on the phonograph. A meditation and a recollection.

1968, 16mm, color/sound, 14min.

 

Phoebe and Jan

Two women who shared my house in Mendocino. Afternoons spent in the rocking chair looking out at the field and ocean. Interplay of the moving camera and the moving subject through layered imagery.

1968, 16mm, color/si, 5 min.

 

Kali's Revue

Kali is the goddess of physical form and transformation in Hindu mythology - thus, the varied textures, colors, and shapes of our transitory existence: the many from the one .... A de-attachment from conventional seeing, with its naming, values and judgments. Weight lifters, drill teams, skyscrapers, majorettes, forests, trains, Pacific Ocean, military schoolboys, conveyor belts, fog .... A structural use of dissolves, fades, and layered sound to carry the momentum of the film. Felicity Facility.

1972, 16mm, color/so, 8 min.

 

As the Wheel Turns

A "spiritual" soap opera, dealing with blackmail and bisexuality. The camera refuses to manipulate, but is rather an interested spectator. The plot unfolds organically (rather than mechanically) as the actors (through the vehicle of skeletal storyline and spirited, and inspired, improvisation) begin to absorb the feelings and traits of the characters they are portraying. An experiment within the narrative tradition, and a critique and extension of the possibilities within that form. Inspired by the early narrative films of Andy Warhol.

1973, 16mm, b&w/so, 24 min.

 

Sleepwalk

Music: Westland Steel Band

Explores the juncture of psychology and spirituality as expressed in the writing of the Russian mystic/philosopher Gurdjieff and his student Ouspensky. A deconstruction (via rhythmic repetition and optical printing) of the notion of personality, as expressed in gesture and vocal nuance, that becomes almost unconscious in behavior. An attempt to bring to consciousness these idiosyncratic traits and break the cycle of waking sleep.

"It was the funniest film in the festival ... the images stayed with me and heightened my visual world. ... [A] beautiful dialecticalrelationship on the structural use of sound ...." - Ray Kril, festival judge

"One of the few films from which I actually learned something about people." - Don Lloyd, filmmaker and festival judge

"Almost a linguistic analysis of the structure of motion ... orchestrates the 'meaningless babble' of life." - Carel Towe, filmmaker and critic

Awards:

Best of Festival Award, Humboldt State University Film Festival, 1975;

Marin County Nat'l Film Competition,

1975. 1973, 16mm, color/so, 12m, $35 .

 

The Place Between Our Bodies

"Michael Wallin's THE PLACE BETWEEN OUR BODIES, produced in 1975, offers an uncommonly explicit exploration of gay male sexuality, still raw and affecting more than ten years down the sex-radical road." - Elizabeth Pincus, Gay Community News, Boston 1988

"THE PLACE BETWEEN OUR BODIES (1975) seems to come from another planet, another epoch, in its frank and tender extrapolation of gay sexual hunger and the kindling of a first relationship. The film is stridently pre-AIDS - much more so than any mid-'70s porno. This is partly because it is a personal film that discusses sexual hunger and love in a context that endows them with transcendent powers .... Sexual love overcomes the light of gay alienation and sexual hunger. And that is what begins to turn the film around, so that its most beautiful moments become its most painful. Wallin's indescribable expressionduring orgasm, and the enveloping tenderness with which he (unsafely) fucks his boyfriend, left me chilled with sadness barely discernible beneath the usual tough-skinned attempt - on my part, on everyone's - to endure." - Todd Haynes, Afterimage, 1988

Exhibition:

Museum of Modern Art, NY, 1976;

MIX NYC: NY Lesbian & Gay Experimental Film/Video Festival, 1988;

Chicago Int'l Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, 1989;

LA Int'l Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, 1989;

London Gay and Lesbian Film Festival,1991.

1975, 16mm, color/sound 33 min .

 

Tall Grass

Reminiscences of an idyllic summer spent in Mendocino, California in 1968. Portraits of close friends, including a romantic vision of a high school infatuation. Footage of mentor and friend, filmmaker Bruce Baillie. First tentative, na´ve filmic explorations. Alternate title: "Portrait of the artist as a young romantic."

1968-1980, 16mm, color/si, 12m, $35 .

Greed, or Buffalo Baba

Made with Lenny Levy. Music: Alice Coltrane; Huston Person.

East meets West(ern) in a unique confrontation of values. Acquisitive man versus Contemplative man. A fierce tale of cowboys and Sufis. Despite gunfights and square dances, Evil is unmasked and vanquished, while Truth prevails. Throughout all, the benign countenance and good humor of Meher Baba remains undaunted. "Don't worry. Be happy."

1972-1980, 16mm, color/so, 8 min. .

 

Cool Runnings

Music: Gregory Isaacs, Trinity, and Al Ranglin and the GG All-Stars.

A brief glimpse into the lives of some of Jamaica's Rastafarians, a fascinating sect known for its political and religious beliefs (repatriation to Africa, Haille Selassie as God), its lifestyle (natural foods and marijuana ["ganja"] smoking), its appearance (long "dreadlocks") and its music (reggae), which makes up the soundtrack, "Cool runnings, mon ...."

"COOL RUNNINGS ... is noteworthy as an ethnographic effort." - Linda Gross, The Los Angeles Times 1980,

16mm, color/so, 15 min.

 

Monitoring the Unstable Earth

Music: Jon Gibson

A (re)collection, a (re)ordering of the elements of our external world, filmed during travels in California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. A sort of "topological revue." Salt flats, deserts, mountains, forests, cityscapes, plus meditation on Christo's Running Fence and Duane Hanson's figurative sculptures. Fantastic landscapes transmuted/ reduced to their distinctive aesthetic qualities. Patterns of symmetry, of pure form emerge. Here shape and texture, color and light overcome meaning to affect perception on a primary, visceral level. Sensations evoked by certain (sometimes archetypal) images: a profound feeling of peace, a disturbing sense of unease, a tug of nostalgia ....

"Michael Wallin's MONITORING THE UNSTABLE EARTH ... proceeds from the filmmaker's intention of modeling a piece whose terms elude narrative fixations .... The eye of the camera embraces the essential surprise of the familiar - in landscapes,recurring human figures, art objects in natural and museum settings - paring away dross and fixing together a moving panorama of perceptual dares. The visuals are bonded together with an intriguing soundtrack." - Calvin Ahlgren, San Francisco Chronicle (SFAI Film Festival Judge)

Award:

SF Art Institute Film Festival, 1980

Exhibition:

Bay Area Filmmakers Showcase, SF Int'l Film Festival 1980,

16mm, color/so, 20 min.

 

Fearful Symmetry

"Long live dynamic geometry, the movement of points, lines, surfaces, volumes ...." - Dziga Vertov

Uses precisely (mathematically) determined single-framing to give movement to static space, to give life and energy to solid objects, to duplicate/mimic the eye's true movements, to forcefully bring to consciousness an inherent symmetry and balance in the visual field. Images: deadened railroad tracks, ice plant fields, Bethlehem Steel smokestack, Canyon Cinema office, back porch clouds and sky, PG&E plant at Moss Landing ....

"FEARFUL SYMMETRY arrives at very nearly the identical [profoundly felt] sensibility by the reverse process - I feel Michael Wallin experienced a transcendent state first, then after translating that into intellectual terms, began to film a construct ....Wallin imputes the foundation of an imagistic world through discontinuous static displacement pans, flash framing the blindness persistent in vision, emptying out the subject-as-limit into the subjectlessness of seeing." - Robert Fulton,filmmaker (SFAI Film Festival Judge)

Award:

SF Art Institute Film Festival, 1981

1981, 16mm, color/silent, 15 min. .

 

Along the Way

A visual journal or diary, an experimental "travelogue," where the signposts of interest are equally elements of architecture and plant life as people and events. Imposition of formal compositional strategies vies with the revelation of off-hand personal gesture to continually regenerate interest and belie expectation. Both a reminiscence and an ongoing investigation, the intent is to communicate the essential quality of "place," which is always an amalgam of the visual and emotional. Friends who populate the images provide personal anecdotes for the soundtrack. Powerful (and painful) events in my life during the period of the film's completion certainly influenced its emotional tone. It seems at times an elegy to my relationship with a lover.

"Things are as they are - they are not like anything." - Robert Creeley

"No ideas but in things." - William Carlos Williams

We've traveled on together Through dark and sunny days And may we always be together Just my Lord and I along the way. - "Along the Way," John Duffey, as recorded by the Country Gentlemen

Award:

SF Art Institute Film Festival, 1984

Exhibition:

Bay Area Filmmakers Showcase, SF Int'l Film Festival, 1983

1983, 16mm, color/so, 20m, $60 VHS Sale: $40 Home; $60 Other

 

Decodings

"Michael Wallin's DECODINGS is a profoundly moving, allegorical search for identity from the documents of collective memory,in this case, found footage from the '40s and '50s. ... The search for self ends in aching poignancy with stills of a boy and his mother at the kitchen table, catching the moment that marks the dawning of anguish and loss; desire becomes imprinted on that which was long ago." - Manohla Dargis, The Village Voice

"DECODINGS is a magical, seamless work that manages to beguile even as it probes areas tender to the touch. Its tale is beautifully told ...." - Patrick Hoctel, SF Weekly

"Explodes with Bu˝uel's sensuousness and a Hitchcockian narrative irony ...." - Doug Sadownick, LA Weekly

"Wallin's achievement in DECODINGS is to create a powerfully inventive work that conveys with dramatic intensity strong feelings of remembrance and loss from images that have been extracted from the culture. ... Wallin has succeeded in creatingfrom various film sources a work that emphasizes the fragility and ultimate vulnerability of human expression and relationships." - John G. Hanhardt, Whitney Biennial catalogue, 1989

Awards:

Grand Prize, Black Maria Film and Video Festival, 1988;

Special Jury Award, SF Int'l Film Festival, 1989;

SECA Film as Art Award, SF Museum of Modern Art, 1990;

Bucks County Film Festival, 1990;

Humboldt Film Festival, 1990;

NY Short Film/Video Expo, 1989;

Chicago Int'l Film Festival, 1989;

Athens Int'l Film and Video Festival, 1989;

SF Art Institute Film Festival, 1989.

Exhibition: Biennial Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1989

1988, 16mm, b&w/so, 15m .

 

Black Sheep Boy

A rumination of desire, the construction of sexual fantasy, obsession, the yearning for connection, the allure of the younger man, the pursuit of the idealized other, its rewards and pitfalls. Erotic, playful, perhaps disturbing; many questions are raised, few are answered.

"Like lyrical segments of Genet's Chant D'Amour, the scenes of guys undressing in BLACK SHEEP BOY are refreshingly unencumbered by a plot. Instead, a man's voice serves as the guiding consciousness of the film as he describes his fetishizing of these youths, admitting that he is after a fantasy, not a reality. ... The beauty of this film goes beyond the visual splendor of youth. Wallin's technique preserves multiple takes of the same subject: this stuttering tempo, combined with bursts of flash and the candid quality of the posing, gives the film a rough, underground look that's very appealing and appropriate to its grunge milieu. ... Because the soundtrack is independent of the visuals, Wallin is able to make some good sonic jokes, such as a nifty popping sound whenever a guy undoes that first button of his jeans. BLACK SHEEP BOY celebrates that uncorking with eroticism, philosophy and poetry." - Roberto Friedman, Bay Area Reporter

Exhibition:

SF Int'l Lesbian & Gay Film Festival;

Vancouver Lesbian & Gay Film/Video Festival;

LA Gay & Lesbian Film Festival;

Austin Gay and Lesbian Int'l Film Festival;

Chicago Lesbian and Gay Int'l Film Festival;

MIX NYC: NY Lesbian & Gay Experimental Film/Video Festival.

1995, 16mm, color/sound, 37 min.