Andersen’s 1974 “Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer” was a philosophical inquiry into the origin of motion pictures that transforms the 19th inventor of animated motion studies into a ‘70s serial photographer. (Two decades later, I regularly used the film as the introductory text for a film history course.) Around 1980, the filmmaker Morgan Fisher sent me a collection of essays “Literature and the Visual Arts in Contemporary Arts” which was notable for Andersen’s fascinating 50-page piece excavating the movies of “Red Hollywood”, later turned into a documentary-essay of the same name, made in collaboration with Noel Burch. (Some 25 years later, I found myself mining that very field.)
In the course of researching Jack Smith’s film performances, I discovered a detailed account of Andy Warhol’s “Camp”, a movie in which Smith plays an important role, written by none other than Thom Andersen and published in 1966 in Artforum—the same journal in which, 40-something years later, I published an article on “sunshine noir” inspired by Los Angeles filmmaker Pat O’Neill’s “The Decay of Fiction” and informed by Andersen’s great documentary essay “Los Angeles Plays Itself,” a secret history of Los Angeles and an amazing example of virtual urban archeology, showing how world’s most photographed city has been represented in the movies.
Andersen’s projects are hardly predictable and I can’t predict how I’ll ultimately be affected by his latest movie “Reconversão” (Reconversion), showing this Saturday, January 12, at the Museum Moving Image as part of the museum’s “First Look Series”, but I can say that the filmmaker’s 68-minute essay on the Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura is in some ways a movie about his own method for exhuming relics and reconstructing the past.
A straightforward, unassertively harmonious catalogue of Souto de Moura’s various projects, mostly in and around Porto, but realized and un-, livened by real-time pixilation and occasional historical digressions, “Reconversão” is also a sort of poetic manifesto. Souto de Moura develops his buildings out of what comes to hand in accord, working with a landscape that already exists—his houses and other constructions typically make use of the stones, walls, and/or stray pillars that he finds existing on the site. (It’s a philosophy that proved invaluable when Souto de Moura was involved in overseeing the creation of Porto’s subway system.)
Although the architect appears briefly towards the end of the movie (talking on, but not to the camera), “Reconversão” has almost no human presence beyond the various buildings and structures it documents which, in good measure due to Souto de Moura’s concern with integrating these edifices into their setting, have become to seem organic. “A good building always makes a beautiful ruin,” the architect maintains. Indeed, a ruin is a building’s “natural state.”
By the time it ends, “Reconversão” has come to resemble one of Souto de Moura’s structures and those structures seem like an analog to Andersen’s work.