colin manning

Colin Manning: more is more

Oregon filmmaker's expansive visions, explored in a recent retrospective, need no apology

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

At the Northwest Film Center’s most recent installment of its ongoing independent Pacific Northwest filmmaker project Northwest Tracking,  the notorious Portland-based underground imagemaker Colin Manning gave us a taste of his special brand of film collage and animation: a retrospective of his earlier work plus a live performance of his signature projection art. After the performance and screening, Manning took the stage at Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium for a conversation with NWFC’s Ben Popp.

His first words: “Sorry about that.”

Manning talked about his mad process, and how his tastes and techniques have evolved over time. “I have a capacity for overindulgence, too much all at once; sometimes it works, sometimes more is more, sometimes less is more. It’s different every time. The way I work, I don’t plan…it happens in the moment.”

More was definitely more at this event. Even before it commenced, as I hummed along with the Balanescu Quartet’s Kraftwerk covers playing on the house sound system, I noticed that the audients whose visual style most strongly signaled “artist” all positioned themselves (as I had, being an “artist” myself) behind Manning’s bank of projectors, which were set up not in the projector room but out in the audience, about five rows from the back. I counted four film projectors, two—no, three—slide projectors, and one of those overhead-transparency projectors like you used to see in schools, plus a DJ-crate full of reels. Manning was there early, testing his gear, talking to fans and former collaborators (I recognized Erin Laroue of local gothic doom pop group Jamais Jamais), and wearing a sweet vintage shirt printed with a pattern that looks like those sedimentary cross-sections you see in geology textbooks and science museums. Already it was one of the most Portland things I’ve ever seen.

Colin Manning’s first priority before getting into his “analog projection magick” was to introduce his supporting musicians, Disxiple 113 and Andrew Tomasello. “I usually do this in music settings: night clubs, someone’s basement,” Manning joked. We soon saw why.

I always like to go into these things without having a clue about what I’m getting into, so the live projection caught me totally off guard: a super-rich overabundance of wildly varied images, projected together all at once onto different planes of Whitsell’s screen, sometimes split by pieces of glass and mirrored on either side of the screen, sometimes densely superposed, usually flipped backwards or upside-down or both, film running in reverse, slides overlapping, colors and text washing out beyond the edges of meaning into some sort of trashily transcendent hyper-meaning.

For all the chaos, though, there was a clear artistic vision behind it all, a singular taste driving the selection and combination of images drawn from old nature films, safety catalogs, MST3K-worthy science fiction (I’m sure I saw some clips from the Heinlein classic Destination Moon), documentary footage from the last several decades, and gods only know what all else. I don’t think I’ve ever felt a cinematic experience so deeply in the avant-garde reaches of my lusty, psychedelic, extravagance-addicted gut. It can’t have lasted more than about 20 minutes but it felt like several hours. I’m always searching for art that’s big enough, full enough, and crazy enough to really scratch that itch, the one that demands More More More, and it’s not too often that I feel like I’m really getting good and properly fucked (aesthetically speaking, of course). For me, more was more.

The music fit right in there, noisy and dissonant and atmospheric, supporting the film and overwhelming the ears even as Manning overwhelmed the eyes. After each musician’s segment ended, Manning briefly flipped on that overhead projector as a sort of applause (I guess), broadcasting a ribbed ring of metal surrounding what looked almost like a bunch of teeth. Wild applause from the enthusiastic audience (who presumably also can’t get enough of this kind of art) and lights up for a quick stretch. We sure needed it.

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