When The International Experimental (TIE) Cinema Exposition, a worldwide Colorado-based collective of contemporary avant-garde filmmakers, started in 1999, it was for a four-day festival set in the rarefied reaches of Telluride. That was fine and dandy, says TIE executive director Chris May, except for one ironic detail: "When we were in Telluride, we had so many great films and world premieres, and cinema curators from around the world, but there were so few local people there, because of distance."
So last year the exposition relocated to the Colorado Springs area, where it has resurfaced in a new form. Still, though, it remains true to the aesthetic it originally promoted: that of genuine film -- artwork committed to reels of acetate and emulsion -- as opposed to that of other newly developed moving visual media.
Instead of condensing the passion into a four-day event, TIE now spreads the screenings throughout a series of smaller programs, including one this Saturday, at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center's fabulous art-deco theater. The features are a couple of remastered films by Andy Warhol -- Horse and The Velvet Underground & Nico-- along with works by leading Austrian and German avant-gardists. May calls the nonconformist Teutonic movie-making milieu a "hotbed for experimental filmmaking right now."
If that seems like a mismatched bill, guess again. First of all, May contends, diversity is what TIE is all about. "We wanted to have a seven-hour fest that would show top stuff, while remembering things from the past," he says. And second, it's all related: "Experimental cinema brings everything back to the inception of film itself, this in part being your basic experience of cinema -- sitting in the dark, looking up at a glowing, flickering light with a group of people all looking forward at the same time.
Warhol, May notes, has only recently begun to be recognized for his work as an experimental filmmaker -- decades after the fact. "A lot of people thought of him as someone who was out there to parody or make fun of the avant-garde film scene of that time, but he was actually a beautiful composer of film. And the way he used people in his films was so radical: There'd be a ton of stars walking in and out, but there would also be street people. He brought the whole celebrity thing down to a bohemian arts level and vice versa.
"These recently preserved works are not at all like the ones you see in the video store, which were actually directed by Paul Morrissey," May continues. "These came from Warhol's time as an auteur, when he was not there to parody the avant-garde film movement but to comment on it and create a personal aesthetic."
May calls Horse a difficult yet hilarious film, a ninety-minute homoerotic sort of Western that spends at least a third of its duration focused on a horse munching hay in Warhol's Factory. "You have all those Factory hunk guys camping out and bringing subtext to the film's center. But there's also a phone in the corner of the set, where Andy Warhol comes and goes and answers phone calls. Looking at the corner of the screen instead of directly in the middle all the time exposes the very surface of film." And the Velvet Underground piece, featuring Lou Reed's seminal New York rock band in a series of dual-screened 16mm images, is an exciting film that, until recently, hadn't been seen since Lou was a youngster. The newly preserved version debuted not long ago at a screening in Moscow, where audience members were so moved that they stood up and cheered at the end.
You might want to do the same. Or not. But the Fine Arts Center, with its large screen and superlative sound system, is the perfect place for such a scene, May declares. If so, Andy Warhol will probably be smiling down from heaven like a Campbell's kid.