My perpetual worry is not that we won’t have great artists anymore in the world. But rather, that we will have them but no one will notice their presence. My cousin David Berry is one of the people that worries me. One of George Lucas’ original people David became a master of movie special effects making Star Wars in the 70s and then later winning of an Oscar for Special Effects in the film Cocoon in the 80s.
Each holiday season, Dave send all family members a special Video Postcard wishing everyone Season’s Greetings and Good Will To Men. It is a very trippy video film with Davids combination of obscure classical music mixes with various special effects looping by the viewer simultaneously. Since his film days working on movies for others, David established his own studio in Woodacre not more than ten miles from Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch. He began experimenting with his time-lapse photography and the styles and subjects
David might have more films on Vimeo than anyone else. At 1, 182 (December 21, 2016) David probably has more films posted on Vimeo than anyone else. Dave is my cousin and each year cousin Dave sends members of the family a special Video Postcard for the holiday season. David is a student of the great monster special effects creator Raymond Frederick “Ray” Harryhausen (June 29, 1920 – May 7, 2013). Many have seen his films. A monster moves over some island, chasing the marooned crew of some mythological warrior. David’s office at his home in Tibouron is filled with little monsters of all types. Harry Harryhausen would be proud of David’s office (and studio) where he makes his films.
Over the years, David has done little to promote his short films. He started making these after his long film High Sierra Reverie that premiered sometime in the 80s in Marin. I was in the audience at the premiere and thought then (and still do think) the film to be one of the most powerful testaments to nature I’ve ever seen. After High Sierra, David began making his short films of various subjects around the Bay Area and the Sierra Mountains, a hundred miles or so east of the Bay Area.
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Through the 80s and 90s and into the new decade, David experimented with images in film. Not story as much as images. Perhaps his films represented types of image stories? One might call them dynamic, installation art. The films of perhaps an early, experimental MTV film producer combined with a young David Lynch filmmaker. There might be messages in the films but they were not something David sought out to make a film about. Rather, he seemed to discover the message within the film process.
It’s not meant to tell any particular story. Simply to present fast montage images to us. A strobe-light effect, like the flashing lights of discos in the 80s. We are constantly bombarded with images in David’s films. Often, the images are accompanied by obscure musicians or Bartok’s The Mikrokosmos. Nothing moves slowly in David’s films as almost everything is shot using time lapse photography. People come into and out of scenes ten times faster than Keystone Cops.
One of the earliest is 5757 (An Alternate Version) he pieced together from his days in the 70s working with George Lucas and the crew at Industrial Light & Magic in San Rafael just north of San Francisco. We get flashes of the people David worked with. Even Chewbacca, R2D2 and other familiar characters flash in and out of the footage. It seems like a new type of Home Movie in some ways. Something that meant to be edited but never was. Perhaps these are really the best films. At least the most honest one might argue. As David notes about it, “This version is longer, has somewhat ‘better’ quality (I re-transferred the original film in HD and recomposed it to fit the 16:9 format) has more personal stuff from my life (outside of ILM) and different music. It still retains its delightful incoherence, irritating streakiness and maddening lack of stuff I should’ve shot. But, such as it is, it is what it is. Proof that I WAS THERE! Works pretty darn good on an iPad, by the way.” https://vimeo.com/album/1888439/video/39151046
David’s God’s Eye in the 80s is an example of one of his short visual experiments that allowed him to develop his” film as installation” idea for some art gallery concept. It was not film to tell a dramatic story but rather was a type of assault of images on the senses. So many different juxtapositions and qualities of movement in the images. Before the viewers eyes and brain could process the images, they had morphed into new images. Maybe a story was being relayed by just the images? Maybe just emotion and not story? Was this a valid purpose for film these days in the age of Capitalism on steroids it seemed and everyone selling out to Followers, or Hits or Views or Likes. David went his own direction. A pioneer in this new type of film. As he writes about God’s Eye, “This was intended as an HD installation (like in an art Gallery). It is a seamless loop, which was to run continuously. It was created from elements of water and clouds which were processed in After Effects. It is sort of trippy in HD!”https://vimeo.com/4952887
One Davids recent longer films (by long we mean about five minutes) is The Tourist. In the film, David appears as an ultimate observer character or “tourist” of life. As he writes in the Vimeo notes, “Your basic teleportation film, originally inspired by the dream sequence in Buster Keaton’s “Sherlock Jr.” Filmed with a Digital SLR and an intervalometer. Everybody asks: “How were you able to stand in the same spot?” Just used a tape measure (really!) and some tweaking in After Effects. It ain’t perfect but seems to work ok. Updated on 10/30/09! I gotta get a haircut so I got to put this on the shelf for a while! Updated on 08/02/10! New improved edit, better soundtrack!” https://vimeo.com/4419047
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I came upon one of his latest films Night Trips (2016) through his annual December Video Postcard to the family this 2016. At ten minutes long, it is one of the longest of all his films except for documentaries like High Sierra Reverie. David quickly describes it in his Vimeo notes as “A collection of ‘night-themed’ abstractions: time-lapse photography, recurring images and streaks arranged in After Effects.” It is certainly this but it seems more than than. To me it seems to approach the images juxtaposed as never before. It’s as if Salvador Dali had lived to acquire a modern video camera and shot some stuff rather than painted it. Some might interpret it as the visions caused by an abduction as a huge disk appears at the beginning of the film and hovers over San Francisco at night and then sends down a type of white stream of energy the buzzes with electricity. In the corner of the screen, the blue print for a skull flashes on screen while electric spark images buzz like neon at the top of the screen.(See film on opening image or here at https://vimeo.com/189105483).
So, that perpetual re-occuring worry. A great artist has arrived but no one realizes it. Well, he did arrive a number of years ago. And people realized it. But he has carried on this arrival into new territory. David Berry has arrived on the scene for making a new type of film. He proves it with his recent Night Trips. And many of his other 1,182 films on Vimeo.
Will anyone view them? Popular culture is a funny thing. It is not much different from a great animal (or beast) that moves with the cycles of ancient instincts. The way the symbols Jung observed moved. Do images have a particular drama of movement in themselves? Might they be the new Heroes in new types of sorely needed stories today?
An article in the Hollywood Reporter in December of 2016 notes how Hollywood is concerned that a new type of story might be needed in 2017 and beyond. Is it telling the right kind of stories today? It is a bigger question than expanding the tent for the “tent films” or broadening a safe franchise. It is perhaps more than all the books on screenwriting tell people. Maybe the images of a film are the true, modern heroes of films. Images alone and little more. The images of Dave Berry flash by with Star Wars speed going off and returning to loop like a cinematic boomrang. Like a loop of hip-hop music today. Martin Scorese observes that film is dead in a recent interview at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0490215.
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In our age of larger and larger images being squeezed onto smaller and smaller screens, it is perhaps a long overdue time to consider a new role for images in modern films. They always appear in the background of films today to enhanced the Hero or Heroine of the film. But perhaps images need to be placed at front centerstage? Looked at in a new way. Their crazy juxtaposition of images that have not been put together before. Of swirling images pulling us into them and pushing us back at the same time. The counteracting forces of two whirling dervishes. Attraction and repulsion in the context of the image while other things operate in front of these two images of nature.
Hollywood has gone from that great “silent” era of images to dialogue over images and then back to images with the new world of special effects. In the earlier years of film, images had to tell whole story as there was nothing else but images. Sound was speculative through player pianos or small bands in the theaters. But with the talking pictures and the golden era of filmmaking the modern film industry forgot about the power of images in the new power of words.
The age of Film Noir brought back the memory of images in films. A little later film seemed to explode into various genres and forms for smaller and smaller audiences. The age of the grand “general purpose” films was a thing of the past. The explosion of films into various genres, substituted targeted audiences for the grand audiences and symbols of the time. Jung might say the grand “collective unconsciousness” of culture was ignored in this breakup of the art-form into genres.
Is there an artist out there creating the grand symbols of our times for that express our national psyche? Filmmakers claim this profession, craft, skill. Yet, do they still believe in the power of images? If there is a filmmaker/artist out there creating grand symbols for our times, it is assumed he or she will be a celebrity and spewing these symbols out at us. But what if there are great, undiscovered, unnoticed artists out there today? Artists we need but have not found yet.
David Berry might be one of these artists.
(For those who want to see the entire collection of David Berry films on Vimeo go to his Vimeo Home Page at https://vimeo.com/dberry/videos)
David in Marin Headlands