5/18/17 // Technical Sincerity: A Salon With Gordon Ball

Thursday, May 18th, 2017
16 Sherman Street, San Francisco
Facebook Event

For a PDF of this evening’s program, click here.

Please join Canyon Cinema for another installation of our Salon series with longtime Canyon filmmaker Gordon Ball.

Technical Sincerity

Georgia (4min, color, silent, 8mm)
Sitting (2min, color, silent, 16mm)
Father Movie (10min, color, silent, 8mm)
Enthusiasm (13min, color + B&W, sound 16mm)
Mexican Jail Footage (18min, color, sound, 16mm)
Millbrook (9min, color, sound, 16mm)

7:00pm- Doors
7:30pm* – Screening and discussion.
*Note: Street entrance locked at 7:30 – please arrive on time.

Filmmaker Gordon Ball in person. Ball will also be reading from his new short story collection On Tokyo’s Edge at City Lights Bookstore on Wednesday, May 17th at 7:00 PM. Click here for more details.


Gordon BallIn 1980 Gordon Ball adopted a phrase from the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, “technical sincerity,” as touchstone for his first-person filmmaking. In his May 18 Salon the filmmaker will arrive in San Francisco to show and discuss six films from his body of work that exemplify this mode.

“Technical Sincerity”
“Yesterday, a friend who had asked to use a film of mine in a program, said to me “Of course, as I’ve said before, the technique of the film (Father Movie) is nothing to write home about.” I answered, “Well yes but I think that’s what gives it its power—in other words, it doesn’t conform to any textbook standards, but instead to the heart, the experience of the event and my feelings toward it as I filmed.” And he agreed. For “Father Movie” is a film made (except for prelude) at my father’s death; long sequences of it were shot literally weeping & driving (one hand on camera, one on wheel) through town by old places he’d lived in. For such a mode or “technique,” so much the opposite of anything planned, I recall a prose line from Yeats: “When heroism returns to the age, its first sign shall be technical sincerity.” I’ve never entirely understood what Yeats meant, but as time’s passed the line’s last words have come to represent a kind of personal touchstone for art. Not for heroism—which I don’t understand—but to distinguish internal soul from external formula. Surely this is applicable in film, where almost any Hollywood or other “theatrical” movie works from the latter & those of our most masterful contemporaries—say Brakhage and Kubelka—invariably bear the stamp of the former. Fine or rough, heavy or ethereal, there is always at base an unregretful uncompromising heart & consciousness. It is negligent of all but its own earnest rhythmic awareness: and that, after all, may be what we were looking for—what one person and no other can give us.” -Gordon Ball (September 28, 1980, Chapel Hill)


66 Frames“When in late April l966 Jonas Mekas had stepped off the train in the Charlotte station, he’d presented me with a small, strong and heavy regular 8 millimeter Revere movie camera. In just a few minutes he’d explained all I needed to know to use it–including how to superimpose, to place one layer of imagery atop another. I took it with me riding north eight weeks later with my friend Jon Mullis, and had it in hand when we stopped in Richmond to see Jon’s ex-wife, Margaret. Within minutes upon meeting her as twilight began to fall on a warm, expanding Saturday night in early summer, I began shooting a movie.”
“By the age of ten, I’d become a great lover of film. In Tokyo there were at least half a dozen first-run American movie houses and more theaters for older releases. Many a Saturday morning while my father worked at the bank, I’d see a movie with my mother: technicolor epics celebrating Vikings; good-spirited Danny Kaye films; Knights of the Round Table. From my velveteen seat––close as my mother could tolerate––I’d eagerly consume the large-screen action. Occasionally, I’d try to figure whether the momentary fading in of one image on another was really happening on-screen or in my mind. Through transparent rimmed glasses, my mother, seated next to me, remained quietly studious of the flickering dance of light and darkness.” – Gordon Ball, from ’66 Frames: A Memoir

(4min, color, silent, 8mm)Gordon Ball and Jonas Mekas

“A perfect tone poem of a film–within its short time limit, it contains much of the beauty of night and the sensuality of women … perhaps even ‘THE’ woman one sometimes sees dancing in the night, but never touches in the flesh. Dreamlike, beautiful – its brevity compacts its power and renders it haunting.”– William R. Trotter

“GEORGIA is a good example of a new genre of film that has been developing lately, that is, a portrait film. In some cases, like those of Brakhage, Warhol or Markopoulos, there is an attempt at an objective portrait of a man or woman; in other cases, like in the case of GEORGIA, the portrait becomes completely personalized, poetically transposed; it may not be as multi-faceted as, say, Brakhage’s portrait of McClure, but an inspired portrait nevertheless, in the vein of a single-minded lyrical love poem.”– Jonas Mekas

Sitting (2min, color, silent, 16mm)

Gordon Ball SittingSitting meditation study. First work after I laid down camera seven years–thus newskin concentration on breath-body precise rhythm attention.

Award: Honorable Mention, North Carolina Film Festival, 1977; Third International Avant-Garde Film Festival, London, 1978.

Father Movie (10min, color, silent, 8mm)

Made spontaneously with news of my father’s death–I kept Kathy’s instamatic Super 8 in my coat pocket as I headed to Winston-Salem and the rest home where my father died of a sudden stroke overnight. I filmed on highway, in his abandoned rest home room, then drove weeping & filming at the same time, one hand on wheel, one holding camera, past the houses–my sister’s, his own–he and my mother had lived in after retirement from life’s work abroad.

“In his two films about the last days and death of his father and the life and death of his mother, Gordon Ball has accomplished something unique in the autobiographical genre of motion pictures. He has reconciled ‘still’ (as the mind would have it re-membering) with ‘movie’ AND ‘document’ (in the form of ‘home movies’) with the ‘myth’ of his voice track.”–Stan Brakhage

Enthusiasm (13min, color + B&W, sound 16mm)

Gordon Ball Enthusiasm“It began with ENTHUSIASM. I first learned of Gordon Ball at the 1979 Atlanta Independent Film Festival when, along with 400 other festival goers, I watched an utterly earnest, painful and serious film called ENTHUSIASM sandwiched in a program of likeable festival fare. For the fourteen long minutes that ENTHUSIASM claimed the screen, a roomful of unprepared viewers was confronted with a filmmaker’s account of his mother’s death, following a prolonged illness with Alzheimer’s Disease, a form of premature senility. Ball’s detailed narrative, recited in a voice struggling to maintain composure, accompanied the generally random series of snapshots and posed photographs of his mother, interspersed with passages of colored leader and flares which constituted the visual body of the film.

Gordon Ball Enthusiasm“Later, at the close of the festival, after five nights of immersion in film and video, ENTHUSIASM was still with me. … Going over these images is a universal experience. They are pictures that record the fairest moments as reflected in the face one wears in front of the camera. They preserve the memory of a time which existed before we children came. In them, the subject, even when aged, is always alive.

“Ball’s story, replete with the mundane, untalked-of details of illness, forms the dark aspect of those fair eternal moments, the face we instinctively turn away from the camera’s eye. ENTHUSIASM’s drama takes the shape of the tension between picture and word, between the memory we cherish and the one we would often rather deny or forget.”–Linda Dubler, Art Papers

Gordon Ball Enthusiasm“ENTHUSIASM presents a unique family image brown, black and white, and color photos collecting an older generation’s poignant enthusiasm, romances, marriages, social graces and narrative myths, narrated in flashbacks from his parents’ graves intermixed with chronologic soundtrack account of their buried histories, awkward, honest and raw-voiced, hesitant and sincere, whereby Gordon Ball makes you cry for life itself.”–Allen Ginsberg

Awards: Sinking Creek Film & Video Festival, 1980; North Carolina Film Festival, 1981.

Collection: North Carolina Museum of Art

Mexican Jail Footage (18min, color, sound, 16mm)

Gordon Ball Mexican Jail FootageParanoid surreptitious in-jail camera held in prisoners’ hands documents daily events and posturings of 25 gringos (and Mexican jailmates) arrested at Puerto Vallarta March 1968 without charge. Was there Mexico, DF-Washington, DC collusion behind this round-up from Yelapa ferry boats, private town houses and palm-roofed wall-less jungle huts? It took place during national polarization (of youth culture, official culture) in US; older US tourists were shocked to find more new generation they thought they’d left behind, and official Mexico was already paranoid in the face of coming Olympics (police would shoot 108 demonstrators) six months later. Narration’s a dense web of comedy, horror and Kafkaesque grotesque behind a succession of raw sunlit images of comely youths imprisoned, male and female.

“MEXICAN JAIL FOOTAGE reminds me of standing by the tracks and watching a train go by– it is so strong, it lasts so long, and it is over so quickly.”–Tom Whiteside

“I can’t forget this film.”–Robert Frank

“`MEXICAN JAIL FOOTAGE’ is the best jail film I’ve seen.”–Jonas Mekas

…with all its unplanned nature or the lack of studio lighting and sound, this filmGordon Ball Mexican Jail Footage by Gordon Ball achieves–more than most any film to come out of Hollywood–a more realized vision of a youth and a certain culture where people know how to be alive….No special effects could compare to our seeing them, for example, performing yoga in the prison courtyard or kissing each other avidly through the cell bars.–Peter Neofotis, newyorkcool.com

Awards: Juror’s Choice, North Carolina Film Festival, 1981; Director’s Choice, Atlanta Film and Video Festival and San Francisco Art Institute Film Festival, 1982; Honorable Mention, Big Muddy Film Festival, 1982.

Collection: Independent Media Artists of Georgia

Millbrook (9min, color, sound, 16mm)

Gordon Ball MillbrookFor aeons it’s been the human family around a fire constructing and refiguring its basic myths: it’s our earliest family or tribal “movie.” So MILLBROOK recounts a mythical “true story,” a life-changing event told against fire, the emblem of consumption and renewal: In the enormous forested estate once used by Timothy Leary, a young couple lose individual identity, merge with decaying leaves and are consumed by maggots as entire universe undergoes entropy, revive as it regenerates and are saved from death by a mysterious familiar stranger.

Award: Atlanta Film and Video Festival


Gordon Ball ID


Gordon Ball (born Paterson, New Jersey, grew up Tokyo, Japan) began work in film when given a regular 8mm movie camera by Jonas Mekas on a 1966 college visit; worked for Mekas and Filmmakers’ Cooperative in New York 1966-1967, a period detailed in Ball’s ’66 FRAMES; hitchhiked across US and Mexico to live in jungle-sea-mountain village; was arrested without charge entering Puerto Vallarta at time of gringo hippie federale round-up, and shot what would become MEXICAN JAIL FOOTAGE from theinside. Returning to US, worked several years (depicted in his EAST HILL FARM) as manager of small farm retreat for poets and artists purchased by poet Allen Ginsberg, with whom he’d work on books and photography over coming decades; made FARM DIARY, the first part (1968-69) of which is available through Filmmakers’ Cooperative. Entering graduate school University of North Carolina Chapel Hill 1973 he told his life story under a magnolia tree on Franklin Street summer 1977; made film elegies FATHER MOVIE (1978) one year after father’s death and ENTHUSIASM (1980) five years after mother’s; shot MILLBROOK (1985), a recapturing of personal psychedelic experience at Timothy Leary’s upstate redoubt; taught two summers (1986 and 1988) in Poland shortly before glasnost, making DO POZNANIA (1991). In 1980 he adopted a phrase from Yeats, “technical sincerity,” as touchstone for his first-person filmmaking: “Fine or rough, heavy or ethereal, there is always at base an unregretful uncompromising heart and consciousness. It is negligent of all but its own earnest rhythmic awareness: and that, after all, may be what we were looking for–what one person and no other can give us.” His work has been shown at a wide range of venues on three continents, including the Museum of Modern Art, Anthology Film Archives, the Guggenheim Museum, San Francisco Cinematheque, Studio 200 (Tokyo), and the British Film Institute. He’s published a prose poem memoir, DARK MUSIC, and a volume of interrelated short stories, ON TOKYO’S EDGE: GAIJIN TALES FROM POSTWAR JAPAN has just been released. In recent years he’s exhibited and published some of the many photographs he took of Ginsberg and Beat colleagues over three decades; his website is . He taught American Literature (including Literature of the Beat Generation), Film History and Theory, and Composition at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia for 26 years, and presently is Visiting Associate Professor of English, Washington and Lee University, in Lexington.

Canyon Cinema is thankful for the long term support of the George Lucas Family Foundation. Dedicated project funding for Canyon Cinema 50 has been generously provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, Owsley Brown III Foundation, Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation and The Fleishhacker Foundation.

Gordon Ball Howl