Jewish Museum Lifts the Veil on Jack Goldstein

Jewish Museum Lifts the Veil on Jack Goldstein
The iconic Jack Goldstein still from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1975.
(Courtesy Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne and the Estate of Jack Goldstein)

Real projected 16mm film abounds at the Jewish Museum’s current retrospective devoted to the Byronic, quasi-underground California conceptualist Jack Goldstein (1945-2003).

Variously a painter, a performance artist, a constructor of concrete poems, a maker of unplayable LPs (sensuous objects that remind me of Ed Ruscha’s books), the Montreal-born, SoCal-raised, Cal Arts-trained Goldstein is most notable for the series of short motion pictures he made in the mid ’70s. In New York at least, these little films were shown in an alternative art space rather than avant-garde film context, yet they seemed to have had their greatest influence on avant-garde filmmakers like Ericka Beckman and Morgan Fisher.

Jack Goldstein x 10,000,” which was originally organized by the Orange County Museum of Art, includes most of Goldstein’s movies — as well as “Underwater Sea Fantasy,” the six and a half minute abstract Nature Channel “epic” he was working on for the last 20 years of his life. The movies are showing as loops although only Goldstein’s best-known film, “Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer” (the MGM lion twitching and roaring on a crimson field), really functions as one, being an icon turned into an icon, or rather a meta icon. (“I want to turn a thought into something tangible — an object — and then back into a thought,” is how Goldstein described his process.)

Most of Goldstein’s other movies were mini dramas or gestures — beyond the underlying gesture of their being made to his specifications by film industry professionals. (According to the artist’s friend, photographer James Welling, “it was a matter of pride that [Goldstein] knew nothing technical about filmmaking.”) Some, like “Shane” and “White Dove,” involve trained animals. Others, such as “A Ballet Shoe,” in which a dancer descends from on pointe in tight close-up, or “Portrait of Père Tanguay,” a four-minute shot of a hand tracing Van Gogh’s painting, are artistic exercises.

“The Jump,” Goldstein’s last film, might be considered his greatest extravaganza — made four years before the Disney digital animation “Tron,” it uses a rotoscope to transform a high diver into something like a living special effect — but, for me, the greatest of Goldstein’s movies is “The Knife.” Here, the big effect is cinema itself. The movie is a close-up of an ordinary table knife as it reflects a succession of individual colors. There is no motion other than the movement of light — it’s filmmaking on the edge of a found silver screen. 

Read more J. Hoberman at Movie Journal.