III. Total Mobile Home Micro Cinema

My first experience of Total Mobile Home Micro Cinema was not a screening, but an outdoor barbecue. Local “scratch film junkie” Thad Povey was working the grill, and there I ate the best veggie burgers I’ve ever had. This marked my introduction to the intimate hospitality and engaged atmosphere of David Sherman and Rebecca Barten’s Total Mobile Home théâtre extraordinaire, with a shrine to New York godfather of the avant-garde Jonas Mekas in the grotto, a built-in bar, and handmade benches. Screenings at Total Mobile Home (TMH) evoked a familiarity and ease more akin to watching home movies in your parents’ rec room than the more formal screenings of Cinematheque and PFA, a tribute to Sherman and Barten’s fervent investigation of the boundaries between personal and public-space presentation.

Evenings at TMH were filled with a sense of conceptual innovation and intellectual curiosity. The flyer for my inaugural screening proclaimed “CAMERA ROLLS + sushi rolls … BRING IT ON OVER!” To this day I still remember the most beautiful camera roll, by Timoleon Wilkins, of flowers in the blaze of a lightning storm, violet and midnight blue. I’ve never seen or heard of it again. Once familiar with my surroundings, I was drawn further into TMH’s recesses, in the form of “Lettrist Cinema: Jean Isidore Isou’s Venom and Eternity.” We were treated to Isou’s 1951 French classic and then slapped with the Total Mobile Home–made Howls in Favor of Sade, black-and-white leader set to a very odd English-with-horrible-French-accent sound track, full of piss and vinegar.

As my friend Brian Frye began to come into his own as a filmmaker, soon to leave us for the cultural “high ground” of New York City and the Robert Beck Memorial Cinema, TMH presented his work paired head-to-head with that of video misfit Vito Acconci.  In “Owen O’Toole presents ‘The Voluptuous Career of a Super-8 Salesman,’” TMH co-conspirator and filmmaker O’Toole shared his in-progress Super-8 featurette and his conceptual gem the Filmer’s Almanac, a Super-8 compilation mail- art project from 1988 featuring original film, slide, and audio documentation by numerous filmmakers and artists from around the world. Total Mobile’s hushed and plaintive evening of “Canyon Cinema Fights the NEA: History, Strategy & Conversation,” indicative of David and Rebecca’s personal investment and passionate interest in Bay Area film history and its thriving community, drew attention to the precious and often precarious state of experimental and avant-garde cinema. Bay Area film history luminaries Edith Kramer and Emory Menefee put the struggle into perspective. Indeed, the issues here were grave, and although Canyon succeeded in publishing its next catalog after it was de-funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, I now see that film distribution faces more far-reaching challenges with the advent of digital technologies.

At Total Mobile Home, and in later endeavors such as their summer Bisbee Film Festival, David Sherman and Rebecca Barten injected a delightful dosage of “do-it-yourself” amidst the mid-size galleries and larger institutional theaters. At TMH, artists already in town to present programs at other venues could here engage in a more close-knit and informal salon, where works in progress were screened on the fly to eager audiences ready to give feedback. They hosted intimate gatherings and conversations with filmmakers from Bay Area legends Sidney Peterson and Bruce Baillie to the local film collective silt. In these efforts, TMH pioneered the concept of the “microcinema,” the infectious impact of which can now be seen worldwide, from miniature showcases to living-room screenings.  Christine Metropoulos, Feburary 2003

A CINEMATIC REVERIE IN FIVE PARTS: VISIONS OF VENUES IN THE 1990s (excerpt)

By Christine Metropoulos