ExperimentalQueer Cinema(s)USAWarren Sonbert

Warren Sonbert – Short Fuse and Carriage Trade (1972 – 1992)

“In [Sonbert’s] best work, behind the mask of unalloyed visual pleasure lurks a dramatic intensity and trajectory, not just of personal concerns or protracted journeys but of massive social upheavals, the melding or collision of distinct cultural rituals of crisis, cessation, renewal.” – Paul Arthur

(Descriptions below are online program notes written by Jon Gartenberg)

SHORT FUSE is informed by Sonbert’s awareness of his own mortality, once he was diagnosed with HIV. As film critic Steven Holden astutely noted, in SHORT FUSE, “an undercurrent of rage seeps through the cracks of its ebullient surface.” The opening of the film explodes with a sea of turbulent emotions, underscored by the gripping sound track from Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto. Shifting musical passages collide against images of leisure, war, and protest.

In 1986, Sonbert wrote a feature-length screenplay adaptation of Strauss’ Capriccio, his favorite opera. A central artistic question raised by Capriccio is whether the music or the libretto takes priority. Short Fuse is replete with a soundtrack that counterpoints the film’s visuals; this prompts the spectator to contemplate, in analogous fashion, whether the images or the sound track predominates. In Sonbert’s creative hands, there are no definitive answers, only more open-ended perspectives.

In CARRIAGE TRADE, Sonbert interweaves footage taken from his journeys throughout Europe, Africa, Asian and the United States, together with shots he removed from the camera originals of a number of his earlier films. CARRIAGE TRADE was an evolving work-in-progress, and this 61-minute version is the definitive form in which Sonbert realized it, preserved intact from the camera original. With CARRIAGE TRADE, Sonbert began to challenge the theories espoused by the great Soviet filmmakers of the 1920’s; he particularly disliked the “knee-jerk’ reaction produced by Eisenstein’s montage. In both lectures and writings about his own style of editing, Sonbert described CARRIAGE TRADE as “a jig-saw puzzle of postcards to produce varied displaced effects.” This approach, according to Sonbert, ultimately affords the viewer multi-faceted readings of the connections between individual shots. This occurs through the spectator’s assimilation of “the changing relations of the movement of objects, the gestures of figures, familiar worldwide icons, rituals and reactions, rhythm, spacing and density of images.”

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