Artscape: Lewis Klahr

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Experimental filmmaker Lewis Klahr literally cuts his characters from the cloth of American pulp culture.

One of the leading purveyors of collage animation, he uses imagery from comic books, photographs of actors, magazine illustrations and vintage advertisements to paste together stories that turn those two-dimensional, point-blank subjects into complex, sometimes enigmatic, people.

"They are sort of compressed versions of a full narrative - what I call elliptical narrative," said Klahr, who goes into each film with a few specific ideas. "I make things to journey with myself - I don't make things to script."

This year's recipient of the Wexner Center's Media Arts Residency, Los Angeles-based Klahr is spending some time in Columbus this week.

Grounded in over 30 years of experience as a filmmaker, commercial animator and screenplay writer, he's been speaking to crowds, screening new work, teaching a master class and kicking off a month's worth of screenings of his films, paired with movies that influenced him.

Wexner residencies support artists in a variety of ways, one of which is a direct infusion of cash to support new projects, upgrade equipment or preserve existing work.

For Klahr, it's also the opportunity to have his first official retrospective. And, perhaps most importantly, it's given him access to the Wexner staff and studios, which have designed DVDs of a broad sampling of Klahr's back catalog.

"DVDs really get around in a way that's quite exciting for somebody like me," said Klahr, who is used to interacting with a small, enthusiastic following. "This will create a much, much wider audience for me."

He's also been able to arm himself with a new stock of vintage comic books for new productions that he'll dig into during his summer break from his day job as an instructor at the California Institute of the Arts.

"I have a new collection of the comic book figures that I am concentrating on much, much more in my current work," said Klahr. "It feels like those characters sit within the worlds that I create much more comfortably than these photographs I used to use, although I loved the actors."

Klahr makes his final personal appearance tonight to introduce "Engram Sepals (Melodramas 1994-2000)," a series of seven of Klahr's best-known films, which precedes Josef von Sternberg's "The Shanghai Gesture."

" 'Shanghai Gesture' is a delirious descent and a coming-of-age story for the main character," Klahr said about his choice. "It's wild, it's exotic, it's a really crazy film and really fun. That sense of journey, that sense of coming of age, that sense of fatalism are all very important in my work."

Klahr's films will continue to screen every Thursday throughout May, paired with other films that have influenced his career and aesthetic. On May 13, Klahr's "The Pharoah's Belt" - a trip through a boy's imagination - screens with "The Thief of Baghdad."

"I encountered it one night when I was 10 years old about 2 o'clock in the morning. It was just a completely ecstatic laugh-fest," said Klahr. "It felt like the movie I wanted to see - genies, flying carpets, the arrow of justice and a flying mechanical horse. To see only the last 10 minutes of it at this very exotic hour - it made a huge impression on me."

What: Lewis Klahr retrospective

When: Thursdays through May 27

Where: Wexner Center Film/Video Theater, Campus

Web: wexarts.ort