Wellington Scoop

Cinema and art

Photo from IMA Brisbane

This towering helical steel structure is one of the astonishing surprises in the Simon Starling ‘in speculum’ exhibition now at the City Gallery.

You walk into a darkened room, and are confronted by the elaborate structure which could be a circular staircase. It carries a 35mm projector and there’s a familiar clatter of 35mm film being pulled past the lens. At first you don’t see the film, and then you realise that part of the structure is in fact a long film loop that’s the source of the images being projected.

And then you learn that the film loop documents the German engineering workshop where the steel structure was made. But this is only a quarter of the Starling show – and the Starling show is one of two exhibitions now in Wellington that are exploring the overlapping of art and cinema.

After your first visit to the Starling show, you’ll want to return with time to view his uniquely complex video art works.

masks 2

One is Project for a Masquerade (Hiroshima) (2010) — a proposition for the performance of a Noh play which would combine an ancient Japanese tale of a young noble boy disguising himself to escape his troubled past) with the Cold War saga that evolved around Henry Moore’s 1965 sculpture Nuclear Energy. Roles in the Noh play, as envisioned by Starling, are taken by characters including James Bond, Anthony Blunt, Colonel Sanders, and Joseph Hirshhorn. You don’t see the play, but his film shows the crafting of masks to be used in it, while a voiceover describes the plot and production.

The other is Black Drop (2012), a film interweaving the lives of Captain Cook (who observed and recorded the transit of Venus across the sun from Tahiti in 1769) and French astronomer Pierre-Jules-César Janssen, who invented a chronophotographic device to document the 1874 transit, a precursor to the movie camera.

Film and art are persuasively merged in these works by Simon Starling, who won UK’s prestigious Turner Prize in 2005.

The second Wellington exhibition sharing the same theme is at the Adam Art Gallery, where the work of 13 artists is celebrated in an exhibition titled Cinema and Painting. Curators Michelle Menzies and Danielle Morgan say their intention has been “to craft a compelling and grounded, but fundamentally eccentric path through the complex history of cinema.” Their eccentric part is full of fascinating works.

At entry level is a huge and vivid new work by Judy Miller – 11m x 4.3m – combining direct painting, inkjet printing, digital projection and site-specific installation. It was created for the exhibition. Opposite it is a 16mm projector and the script of a 1968 work by American experimental filmmaker Hollis Frampton.

When you reach the third and lowest level of the gallery, after making many discoveries along the way, you find a glass case in which you can see stencils from one of Len Lye’s famous works which he painted on to 35mm film. For anyone who has marvelled at Lye’s genius, this is a rare glimpse into how he worked.

Cinema and Painting runs till May 11. In Speculum continues till May 18. As they say, unmissable.

Other examples of mainstream cinema art are coming soon to cinema screens in Wellington.


On Monday night at the Paramount, for example, the film society is showing “Bringing Up Baby,” Howard Hawks’ classic screwball comedy from 1938 starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. David Thomson wrote: “It feels as if it was made last night…. Within the magnificent frolic, it speaks about life, energy and the equation of the two.” It’s worth joining the film society just to see this 75-year-old wonder.


And on Easter Saturday, on the Embassy’s giant screen, the film festival’s Autumn Events season is giving s single screening to a new digital restoration of Stanley Donen’s 1957 musical “Funny Face,” starring Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire and the formidable Kay Thompson. Songs by the Gershwins and location shooting in Paris. The season also includes Carol Reed’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner The Third Man (1949) and Elia Kazan’s Academy Award-winning On The Waterfront (1954) with a young Marlon Brando. As they say, unmissable.