Chick Strand at 75

Chick Strand at 75

A Celebration and Screening

"Strand discovered an extraordinary sensuous lyricism, simultaneously wanton and disciplined." David E. James, The Most Typical Avant-Garde

Jack H. Skirball Screening Series

"Still making films after all these years," proudly claims the longtime Angeleno filmmaker, and a local celebration of her inimitable work is long overdue. Ahead of Strand’s 75th birthday in December, this program highlights the multiple facets of her rich and captivating career. She has explored experimental forms that seem at first contradictory—solarization, trance film, ethnographic documentary, found-footage film. Yet she has combined, mixed and overlaid these forms with her unmistakable signature: camerawork that is at once sensuous and rigorous, and a splendid lyricism.

In person: Chick Strand
The program features Waterfall (1967, 3 min., 16mm); Mujer de Milfuegos (1976, 15 min., 16mm); Kristallnacht (1979, 7 min., 16mm); Fake Fruit (1986, 22 min, 16mm); and Artificial Paradise (1986, 12.5 min., 16mm).



Waterfall (1967, 3 min., 16mm) is a film poem using found film and stock footage altered by printing, home development and solarization. It uses visual relationships to invoke a feeling of flow and movement to Japanese Koto music.

Mujer de Milfuegos (Woman of a Thousand Fires, 1976, 15 min., 16mm) has been described by Strand as “a kind of heretic fantasy film.” It is an expressionistic, surrealistic portrait of a Latin American woman – focusing not so much on the subject’s personal characteristics than on an evocation of the consciousness of women in rural parts of such countries as Spain, Greece and Mexico. These women wear black from the age 15 and spend their entire lives giving birth, preparing food and tending to household and farm responsibilities. Mujer de Milfuegos depicts in poetic, almost abstract terms, their daily repetitive tasks as a form of obsessive ritual. It uses dramatic action to express the thoughts and feelings of a woman living within this culture. As she becomes transformed, her isolation and desire, conveyed in symbolic activities, endows her with a universal quality. Through experiences of ecstasy and madness we are shown different aspects of her personality. The final sequence presents her awareness of another level of knowledge.

Kristallnacht (1979, 7 min., 16mm) is a haunting, almost abstract black and film/solarized film dedicated to the memory of Anne Frank, and connoting images of a past, invisible catastrophe.

Fake Fruit (1986, 22 min., 16mm) is an intimate documentary about young women who make papier maché fruit and vegetables in a small factory in Mexico. Their boss is a gringo, but the factory is owned by his Mexican wife. The focus of the film is on the color, music and movement involved, and the gossip that goes on constantly, revealing what the young women think about men.

Artificial Paradise (1986, 12:30 min., 16mm) explores “Aztec romance and the dream of love,” as well as “the anthropologist's most human desire: the ultimate contact with the informant.” Strand brilliantly mixes all these tropes: denial of intellectualism, the acceptance of the romantic heart, and a soul without innocence.

There is a boy, Who lives across the river.
Alas, I cannot swim,
I cannot swim
.” - Sappho, 600 BC

Anselmo (1967, 4 min., 16mm)
"I asked a Mexican Indian friend what he would like most in the world. His answer was, 'A double E flat tuba.' I thought it would be easy to find one at the Goodwill. This wasn't so, but a sympathetic man in a music store found a cheap but beautiful brass wrap-around tuba. I bought it, smuggled it into Mexico and gave it to my friend in the desert. The film is a poetic interpretation of this event." With Anselmo Aguascalientes and Balsamo the Magician. Music by La Banda Aguascalientes

Anselmo and the Women (1986, 35 min., 16mm)
Continuing the life of Anselmo, a Mexican street musician, and his life-long struggle to make a good life for his children, the film focuses on his relationship with his wife Adela and his mistress, Cruz. In a society where traditional gender roles are separate and sharply defined, the number of children defines male identity and keeps the women at home and dependent. Poverty makes daily survival a desperate struggle. Dealing with lives in conflict from three points of view, the film explores the division between the real and ideal.

About the Filmmaker:
Chick Strand’s accomplishments as an artist have spanned more than three decades. In the early 1960s, with a new anthropology degree in hand, she turned her attention to ethnographic filmmaking. Her early work focused on Meso-American cultures explored through the language of the experimental documentary. In 1961, she founded Canyon Cinema with Bruce Baillie, an organization that, in 1965, spawned the San Francisco Cinematheque. They organized screenings of experimental, documentary and narrative films in East Bay backyards and community centers. Acting in response to a lack of public venues for independent movies, they were part of a wider explosion in American avant-garde film. The era was one of social idealism and communal energy, and the films they showcased boldly embraced purely cinematic visual expression and cultural critique.

Strand left Northern California in the late 1960s to pursue studies in ethnographic film at UCLA. She then joined the faculty of Occidental College, where she served as the director of the film as art program for a quarter of a century. In the 1970s she continued to define her visual technique, and her subjects more frequently became women. She soon evolved a distinctive film style: backlit subjects photographed in close up and in motion, with a handheld telephoto lens. The technique produced sensual, lyrical images that became Strand's signature.

Strand's most recent works are compelling found-footage films. Her entire filmography numbers nearly a score of works, and along the way, she has also become an accomplished photographer and painter.

Selected Filmography:
Angel Blue Sweet Wings (1966)
Anselmo (1967)
Mosori Monika (1970)
Cosas de Mi Vida (1976)
Elasticity (1976)
Guacamole (1976)
Cartoon le Mousse (1979)
Fever Dream (1979)
Loose Ends (1979)
Soft Fiction (1979)
Anselmo and the Women (1986)
By the Lake (1986)
Coming up for Air (1986)

The Jack H. Skirball Screening Series is curated by Steve Anker and Bérénice Reynaud.

Associated Images: 

MON 11/27
8:00 pm

G - General Audience

M - REDCAT Members

ST - Students

CA - CalArts Students/Faculty/Staff