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Goodbye, Chick Strand

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"I like to hold the camera next to my body when I'm shooting," said experimental filmmaker Chick Strand a few years ago. "Stan Brakhage used to say that he tried to shoot his films through the eyes of a child, but what I tried to do was use the camera close up. I like movement. The flow... the flow... That's what gets me." Strand, who was born in San Francisco in 1931, crafted a body of astonishing films over several decades and became an icon of the LA avant-garde film scene, in part because many of her projects are characterized by exactly that connection to the artist's body, and a vision that is tactile, curious and up-close.

I first met Strand over a decade ago, when I tracked her down in the hills of Tujunga in order to write a profile. After wrestling unsuccessfully with her giant German Shepherd, who knocked me over repeatedly, I still tried to conduct a proper interview, but I'd frankly never met anyone like Strand - she was by turns cranky, irreverent, bossy, outrageous and, like the effusive dog, generously affectionate and, I would learn over time, utterly passionate about her art.

The reason for that first visit, really, was Strand's iconic Soft Fiction, a 54-minute black-and-white film from 1979 composed of sequences of women talking directly to the camera about various sexual experiences; the mix of eroticism, intimacy and visual poetry was intoxicating to someone looking for alternatives to our culture's incredibly limited vision of sexual subjectivity. While I would characterize her work as feminist for this reason, Strand refused the label, insisting that she wasn't interested in politics but instead in her own intuitive and passionate connections to people, light, sound and vision.

Strand's work also includes a collection of cine-poems, such as the erotic and fleshy Fever Dream and the dazzling, lyrical study in light, Kristallnacht, and a series of experimental anthropological films. She taught for a number of years at Occidental College, where, I'm told, she would sit in the back of the room next to the projector, screening experimental films and smoking like a chimney.

We screened Strand's elliptical first film Angel Blue Sweet Wings from 1966 the night before our wedding, outside in the woods, treating bewildered family members to a three-minute study of textures, movement and the quality of light; the film is very dear to me, not just for its beauty but for the attitude it represents: it's about pleasure and joy, and insists that we can know and experience the most amazing things if we simply look at the world right in front of us, up close. I'm sorry to say that Chick Strand passed away on Saturday, July 11. I will miss her deeply.

Image: "Divided Sparkles" by Tanakawho