On Sunday, Nov. 20, CalArts School of Theater faculty Lewis Klahr presents his feature film Circumstantial Pleasures for the first time in Los Angeles at LA Filmforum.
Composed of six short works made between 2012 and 2019, titled Capitalist Roaders, Ramification Lesions (Microbial Stress), Rachet the Margin, Virulent Capital, High Rise, and Circumstantial Pleasures, the film distills life in the 21st century and illustrates anxiety, abrasion, alienation, and agitation. Music for the film includes work by David Rosenbloom, Roy E. Disney Family Chair in Musical Composition in The Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts and former dean. Other musicians include Tom Recchion and Scott Walker.
Though it premiered pre-COVID 19 in 2020 through Light Industry, the film is steeped in the now-familiar world of pandemics. Klahr builds on his inspiration for a previous film Antigenic Drift that discussed the inevitability of pandemics and the flow of pathogens across landscapes.
“I was attracted to that idea, not only for what it said about pandemics but also for how it related to collage—source materials migrating from their original contexts and recontextualizing themselves into fresh contexts, while still retaining part of their original history,” Klahr said in an interview with BOMB magazine.
The imagery of his new film evokes a critique of late-stage capitalism and globalization as unempathetic and unreactive due to its lack of a conscience. In the words of Jennifer Lynde Barker of Mubi, the images “multiply an emptiness and lack created through an endless and pointless mechanized production where human bodies are alienated, damaged, and lost.”
Indeed, people are mere subjects of the contemporary zeitgeist in Ciscumstantial Pleasures, small figures in a very large chain of consumption. Products and packaging take the foreground, and “the delivery systems drive the film forward,” Klahr said. “You watch the objects; the goods become the protagonists.”
Chris Stults, assistant curator of Film/Video for Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, describes the film as “a work that illustrates that the pandemic is a symptom of a larger and more systemic situation that humans have caused in the natural world.”
Circumstantial Pleasures deviates from Klahr’s forte, focusing on raw contemporary life rather than the idiosyncratic collage of found sound and video he’s best known for. A filmmaker since 1977, Klahr’s work has been screened at venues far and wide including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Biennial, the New York Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, the Hong Kong International Film Festival, The Tate Modern, the Pompidou Center, REDCAT, and the LA County Museum of Art.
Klahr’s films have been presented in retrospectives through the Museum of the Moving Image and the Wexner Center for the Arts, where he also was a Media Arts Residency Award Winner. Other accolades include recognition and awards from multiple film festivals, the 2013 Brakhage Vision Award, a 1992 Guggenheim Fellowship, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the NY State Council of the Arts, Creative Artists Public service, the Jerome Foundation, and Creative Capital. He has received commissions from the Gronnegard Theater in Copenhagen and the Rotterdam International Film Festival, and his work is in the permanent collection at New York’s MOMA and Collecion Inelcom.
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