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Experimental Tuesdays at the Union Theatre
And the films of Naoyuki Tsuji


Carly Rubach

The opening short from Naoyuki Tsuji included horse creatures and miniature human figures being excreted out of the orifices of giants. While the subject matter was jarring at times, the technique shouted over the psychosexual imagery and begged for consideration.

Tsuji started studying sculpture in Tokyo but began his career in animation around 1992 with stop-motion photography and puppets, of course. His technique morphed, as his subjects often do, into a simplistic approach using only charcoal and paper. By sketching, erasing and drawing over his previous images, Tsuji creates a haunting effect producing what he calls “afterimages” through a process that is “random, yet with direction.”

The Place Where We Were, Naoyuki Tsuji (2008)
His subject matter centers on themes utilizing young figures entering and exiting different openings (windows, holes, eyes, doors, anuses, etc.) into the next world or segment of the short. The action follows a monotone style of music, which hardly varies and, in effect, becomes overbearing at times. From what I overheard after the film, others agreed that the dreary music was often difficult to sit through, but obviously part of the director’s vision. And though his vision deserves reflection, the viewer need not agree with the composition.

I was surprised by the overall turnout at the Union Theatre for this “Experimental Tuesdays” night centered on a film without much plot or dialogue. Though, I bought popcorn for $1.50 and paid no admission.

Carl Bogner of the UWM Film Department recalls the first season making its introduction in the Spring semester of 2000. Due to its growing popularity, then-Union Theatre program manager Jonathan Jackson was able to expand the season into a co-curated series between the UWM film department and the Union Theatre.

I asked David Dinnell, the current Union Theatre programmer, about Experimental Tuesdays, beginning with the Tsuji shorts from the previous week. I expressed my hesitation to giggle during the psychosexual dreamlike film, but Dinnell says “when angels are ejecting planets out of their anus,” a giggle is only natural.

Dinnell shares how the selection process for independent and experimental films is different than working with feature films because you’re working directly with the artists. On the other hand, with feature films, they have a distribution company that sends you a preview DVD and you can book some dates if you like what you see. While still a necessary process, there is no one-on-one contact with the artist/director.

“A lot of [finding films] is hearing about something interesting, writing to [the artist/director] and asking to look at their work,” Dinnell says.
He has been aware of countless artists through his experience in programming and attending film festivals and alternative film exhibitions. I particularly appreciate Dinnell’s investment in direct communication with the artists by cutting out the middleman and going straight to the source. The series also brings in most of the artist/directors to introduce their films and open a discussion after the audience has seen their work. This is a unique opportunity for the Milwaukee community. The films that show in this university theatre (often free) consist of works you would expect to see in larger cities like Chicago or New York.

So what kind of films can you expect to see on Experimental Tuesdays at the Union Theatre? First, try to shed any expectations because you may be confused when you see a child in a classroom turn into a cloud and then engulf the person seated next to them, creating a larger cloud, and so on—another Tsuji short. Narrative structure does not drive most of the films in the Experimental Tuesdays series. They can be experimental documentary or nonfiction, they can play with the narrative form, or they can be live projector performances.

Trilogy About Clouds, Naoyuki Tsuji (2005)

“If we think of film as a language, then [the filmmakers] are really expanding a vocabulary with which to express,” Dinnell says.

He continues to address how we expect a film to be a story, or a three-act structure, or over 90 minutes, and how “Once you free yourself from that demand or expectation, you’re brought back to a really simple question, what is film?” Dinnell continues, “The primary purpose of this [series] is to really allow the audience an experience of what is possible with this medium of film or video.”

Film is the medium of choice at Experimental Tuesdays and those in attendance from the greater Milwaukee community are interested in other kinds of art, as well. They may not be thrown off by certain form or length expectations. They know what they are about to see is something they cannot see anywhere else and hardly any of these films will be commercially released on DVD. You leave with an appreciation of somebody’s personal vision.

Filmmaker Bruce McClure, for example, will transform the theatre into a three-dimensional sound-and-light enveloping space with his projector performance. McClure, simultaneously controlling multiple projectors, manipulates their production of light and sound into a greater image or environment. Some people leave after five minutes because the experience can be so intense. If you make it through the performance, however, you leave with a new perspective of McClure’s vision of projector art—a form many of us may have never considered. You can catch his performance on Tuesday, November 17 at 7 p.m.

Filmmaker Bruce McClure during a projector performance

“I’m not really good at trying to explain why people should do anything,” Dinnell replied when I asked him why people should check out this series. And maybe he doesn’t need to—the Union Theatre audience has doubled over the past two years. The Milwaukee community is aware of what a resource the theatre is and can appreciate the platform programmers like Dinnell provide for artists and directors in the medium that is film.

The Union Theatre is located on 2200 E. Kenwood Boulevard in the UWM Student Union. Check the calendar for upcoming films and performances.

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