Word has come slowly and unsurely, but those who knew him are confirming that Standish Lawder died last week at the age of 78. Just last fall, the Harvard Film Archive programmed an evening of his films, calling him a “truly multi-dimensional artist,” a “filmmaker, photographer, inventor, educator and film historian… best known today for his delightfully intelligent films that playfully straddle the categories of structuralist cinema and conceptual art.”
“His haute-puckish short films tickle the human thalamus with their carefully crafted compositions of wry visual wit, technological reflexivity, and luscious celluloid textures, often set within envelopes of psychedelic soundscape,” wrote Ed Halter in the Voice in 2007. “Some of his films work almost as conceptual art—like Intolerance (Abridged), which squishes Griffith‘s two-hour monument into 10 brain-breaking minutes; others provide rhythmic photographic abstractions that verge on pure visual music.” In the early 60s, Lawder “became part of one of the earliest studies of psychedelics. Later, while pursuing an art-history graduate degree at Yale and working for his father-in-law, Dadaist pioneer and avant-garde filmmaker Hans Richter, Lawder explored the more controllable tools of cinema.”
Often referred to as a “structural film pioneer,” Lawder told Halter that he wasn’t “satisfied with the implied pure formalism. ‘I think there’s something incredibly sensual about Wavelength, which is about as “structural” as you can get,’ he says. Form matters for its function: ‘Predetermined engineered rhythms or frame-counts measurements,’ he argues, are a way ‘to measure and cut and edit, but have very little to do with the visual experience. How one reacts and sees and deals with a film has more to do with one’s own background and sensibility than the object itself. They’re profoundly subjective experiences.'”
I’ve embedded one of Lawder’s best known films, Necrology from 1969, and others have been kind enough to post Corridor (1970 and Colorfilm (1972). Necrology is included on the DVD collection Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde Film, 1947-1986, where the liner notes hail it as “a wry work in which deciphering the mystery is part of the fun.” In 2009, Ed Howard explained why one needs to watch it through to the end; it’s “a film that seems to be one thing, relatively simple and straightforward, only to reveal itself as something else entirely at the point when one would normally assume the film to be over.”
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