Thursday, October 30, 2014

M. Henry Jones's Soul City

Clapboard, Peter Zaremba, and Lenny Calderon
Gallery 98 is exhibiting M. Henry Jones's photo cut-outs from his 1979 short film Soul City, featuring the Fleshtones. (You can read all about the three-year odyssey of the making of the film in Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America's Garage Band.) The gallery has put up an online exhibit, and it's terrific, a comprehensive, long-overdue documentation of this seminal and influential short film and the dedication and labor-intensive work involved in pulling it off in the pre-digital era. From the site:
The emergence of digital photography during the last decade has provided a new perspective on photographs from the pre-digital era. The photographs that M. Henry Jones created in the late 1970s for the animated film Soul City have a special place in this story of technological change. Sometimes the urge to create precedes the technology that makes it practical. That was certainly true for Jones’ 2 ½-minute photo animation of a performance by the rock group Fleshtones, enhanced with stroboscopic effects. Created before the widespread use of computers, digitization, and tools like Photoshop (1988), Jones’ special effects were created solely through tedious analog techniques. It took nearly two years but there was an unexpected bonus: 1700 individually printed photographs, each hand-cut with an X-acto knife and then hand-colored. This was the raw material for the film, reshot frame-by-frame with changing backgrounds. Today these photographs stand on their own both as beautiful objects and as an artistic record of the creative toils that preceded the digital revolution.

Soul City also proved to be prophetic in another way. Created three years before the 1981 launch of Music Television (MTV), Jones’ short film of the Fleshtones performing Soul City has been cited as an important fine-arts precursor of the commercial genre of rock videos. According to the Wall Street Journal, Jones’ “motives were more perceptual than promotional”; his goal was to “overload viewers” and “induce retinal after-images” (March 3, 2011). The film derives first from Jones’ love of rock and roll but its techniques were rooted in the avant-garde films of his mentors Harry Smith and Paul Sharits. Soul City is emblematic of how serious young artists like Jones redefined both high art and popular culture in the post-pop art world of the late 1970s.
Here's the film:

And some cut-outs. Check out the full online exhibit here.


Marek Pakulski

Keith Streng

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