A tribute today featuring screenings and commentary at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts will honor the late San Francisco-born experimental-film pioneer Chick Strand. The Examiner spoke with Steve Polta, archivist and director of SF Cinematheque, which is presenting the event.
Experimental film is more than the stereotype of distorted images and a soundtrack of radio static, right? Experimental and avant-garde film is an art movement. It’s work — like poetry and music — made by artists, for artistic reasons such as personal expression, or exploring film’s physical qualities. Chick Strand’s work embodies the ’60s era of West Coast experimentalism: intuitive, accessible and somewhat fun.
Why does Chick Strand matter? She matters like an artist matters, as a maker of great film. Part of what she did was address issues in ethnography — her inclusion of dreams and fantasies, as in “Mujer de Milfuegos,” was groundbreaking. And she brought women’s stories into the avant-garde: “Soft Fiction” was radical in 1979, women talking directly to the camera about their sexuality.
A few years ago Strand told an interviewer, “The flow, the flow, that’s what gets me.” What’s your interpretation of that? Maybe she meant the flow of filmmaking — what’s remarkable in her ethnographic films is that everything is close-up, everything is moving — and maybe the flow of life. Chick believed in chance and karma and luck. Along with a certain gravitas in her films, there’s always a thread of absurdity and surrealism. “Cartoon Le Mousse” and “Loose Ends” include weird, playful, goofy collages of found images. She was interested in the sensuality of film, in color and motion, the way shots flow together.
Did Strand face difficulties as one of the few women in her field? She didn’t like to talk about that much. Even though she said, “I gravitate to the women, we understand each other,” I don’t imagine she defined herself as feminist. I think she didn’t have the patience for groups. There definitely is, and was, a lot of sexism in the avant-garde film world. [But] she was a very strong person — really wild at the time — and it’s hard to imagine her taking any crap from anyone.
Do you agree that she wasn’t political? There is a thread of politics in her work but it is not overt, no lecturing. She and her colleagues weren’t trying to convince anyone of anything, they were trying to create their own world. Chick embraced the complexity and the weirdness of life.
IF YOU GO
A Tribute to Chick Strand
Where: YBCA Screening Room, 701 Mission St., San Francisco
When: 7:30 p.m. today
Tickets: $6 to $10
Contact: (415) 978-2700; www.ybca.org; sfcinematheque.org