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Ever since Picasso glued a patterned paper onto a painting, artists have been using the technique of collage. In film, the collecting of disparate elements is usually montage. Not, however, for Lewis Klahr, who places cut-out figures from his huge collection of old comic books into varied illustrations and photographs of mid-20th century architecture, mostly from Los Angeles. His 90-minute opus Sixty Six (2002-2015) screens on January 18 at REDCAT, fresh from its critically praised premiere at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Still frame from Lewis Klahr's "Sixty Six"
Courtesy of the filmmaker

Klahr, who teaches at CalArts, has made films using found images since the 1970's but Sixty Six evolved after he moved from New York to LA in 1998. In addition to vintage comics, the film incorporates snippets of old black and white films and photographs along with stop-motion and other experimental film techniques.

Still frame from Lewis Klahr's "Sixty Six"
Courtesy of the filmmaker

Though it began as a single short film, it expanded into twelve individual chapters and morphed from 16 mm film to digital video as the medium itself changed. But editing, timing and selection of music make it clear that the sequences collectively operate as a single and astonishing work of art. The sound track includes pop and classical songs as well as music composed specifically for the film. There are bits of narrative, including borrowed sound clips from old movies, but there isn't a conventional storyline. Or rather, there are a number of storylines interrupted by abstracted footage, even full frames of solid color. Figures clipped out of comic books operate in tales drawn from Greek mythology, such as Helen of Troy. For Klahr, it is "Helen of T" where in one scene an aging blonde in a teak-walled modern interior hustles past a poster for the exhibition Art of the Sixties with its own comic blonde painted by Roy Lichtenstein. References build on references.

Still frame from Lewis Klahr's "Sixty Six"
Courtesy of the filmmaker

Is Sixty Six trying to highlight some sort of watershed moment? Virtually all of the images used in the film date to before the year 1966. Square-jawed men in suits, women wearing pearls and sheaths, telephones with cords, stereos in cabinets, finned autos, cigarettes in ashtrays, superheroes and bleached blondes. Klahr presents them not as some observation about the dominance of pop culture but as artifacts of a time so recent and yet so far removed, not unlike the thrust of collages by LA-based artist Alexis Smith. Klahr also makes and exhibit his own collages but they are drawn from his films, not the reverse.

Still frame from Lewis Klahr's "Sixty Six"
Courtesy of the filmmaker

REDCAT, the downtown art center of CalArts, has a pretty lively season ahead — films by Pat O'Neill, Chantal Akerman, Tacita Dean, a talk by author George Saunders, a new work choreographed by Steve Paxton, a sound installation by Tetsuya Umeda, a gallery exhibition of work by John Knight — but I am most anticipating the Wooster Group's interpretation of Harold Pinter's The Room. What will happen when Elizabeth LeCompte's ground-breaking theater troupe takes on the master of controlled, reductive drama? The world premiere is February 4. 

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