Water and Power
(Pat O’Neill, 1989, 54 min)
"[Water and Power] reveals a modern city as layer over layer of experience, and makes no pretense of reducing Los Angeles to anything like a single, coherent understanding… LA is not merely an elaborate reality; it is a nearly overwhelming surreality." -Scott McDonald, Wide Angle
Water and Power is one of the most significant experimental films to come out of the 1980s, winning a Sundance Grand Jury Prize in1990 and being selected to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2008. Requiring almost a decade of work, the film is a true city symphony to the Los Angeles Basin. Like Roman Polanski's Chinatown, the core focus of the film is the relationship of water, in all its forms, to the duplicitous undercurrents of this desert town. O'Neill implies a history of a frontier town, superimposing text and surrealist vignettes over wide vistas of the urban streets of LA and the landscape of Owens Valley, a main water source for the downtown area that is becoming increasingly sucked dry.
The size and resolution of the 35mm film image provides a massive canvas for O'Neill's incredibly precise optical printing work. The baselines for many of his compositions are time-lapsed landscapes, shot on a motion-control camera that allows precise movements to be duplicated in other locales. On top of these, O'Neill layers hi-contrast, ghostly figures performing surrealistic repetitive actions in a derelict downtown office, drawing historical and metaphoric parallels to the landscape being shown. The images are sutured together under the spell of George Lockwood's beautiful sound design, layering snippets from B-movies, sound effects and a plethora of musical genres over the visual field. As a whole, it becomes one of the most intensely cinematic experiences one can have in an experimental film festival.
Filmmaker in Attendance, 35mm