Reading Tara Judah’s latest dispatch for Ubiquarian I was struck by this line: “what happens to the world when it is at our fingertips and eyeballs but nowhere else in our bodies?” With so many people facing genuine hardships it feels incredibly flippant to be pouting about the temporary loss of cinema. But (gratefully and) safely cocooned in our homes as we gorge ourselves on the unfettered choice of films, our fundamental relationship to cinema and its associated communities remains severed.
During lockdown the closest thing I’ve encountered to the experience of cinema is ‘Remains to be Streamed’ presented by Mark Toscano, a Los Angeles based curator and film preservationist whose work is primarily focused on avant-garde cinema. “Looking at prints is a major part of my job”, says Toscano, “but it’s something I’m doing alone. I decided it would be fun to start an occasional series where an audience could join me in the experience”. Billed as a mystery program of archival experimental film, ‘Remains to be Seen’ was originally presented at Echo Park Film Centre, Los Angeles in September 2019. When COVID shuttered the city, Mark relocated to his home, tweaked the program name and began broadcasting ‘Remains to be Streamed’ via Instagram (@preservationinsanity).
“I very deliberately wanted a weekly thing on the same night at the same time as a way to create a tradition, not in a grandiose sense, but just this idea that on Tuesday night at 8pm, there’s a thing going on that you could just check out”.
This week’s program featured Robert Nelson’s gently comic ode to a lost friend, Deep Westurn (1974), Amy Halpern’s exquisite film ritual, Elixir (2012), and Janie Geiser’s magical animation, The Secret Story (1996). The films are interspersed with Mark discussing the works, responding to comments in the chat and welcoming people as they arrive in the ‘virtual room’. “Some people have likened it to a podcast. The talk and films are on equal footing, in service of the artists and these works. On any given project I’ve worked on, I have a million things to say but it’s logistical too, because it takes a little time to rethread the projector!”
Logistics aside, this real-time interaction offers a sharp contrast to the largely detached experience of online viewing. “I’m putting these things on a projector and I actually get the sense that people are with me. The presence of people in the chat makes it weirdly live and communal. Another thing I like about it being on Instagram is the informality. There are regulars every week and people that just sort of dip in and out, maybe just watch one movie and go to bed. That’s great, I love that”.
At the Echo Park screenings, programmatic choices were largely led by what Toscano was working on in his day job as a Film Preservationist and what made for a “kind of fun, well-rounded show”. With the program moving online he notes that “in these kinds of guided, idiosyncratic programs, the eclecticism is more important because there’s chat in between. So, I might show Su Friedrich’s Cool Hands Warm Heart, a weird Kathy Rose screwball animation and before that a Robert Todd movie. It’s almost like show and tell”. Animation is a welcome, regular addition to most programs. “I love to mix animation in with live action (experimental titles) because it doesn’t often happen except in competition programs at festivals. I’m drawn to it partly because it’s not respected as an artform, yet it’s radically important, especially because it will often be a more accessible entry point to people who otherwise might not be into something more challenging.”
“It’s not a typical screening situation, it’s this funny hybrid. In some ways, it gets at the root of my enthusiasm and eagerness to share that with other people, who I also know like this work”.
When the shutdown happened, Mark didn’t have a plan to stream but says that “after it worked the first week I thought, well yeah, this works fine!” For now, he plans to “keep doing it for as long as it seems useful and beyond that, once things are back to what we call normal, I could still see doing it periodically, maybe once a month or something”.
With the pandemic forcing us online it’s amplified the seemingly endless banquet of films on offer but left a giant cinema-shaped hole in our days. Over the weeks of watching ‘Remains to be Streamed’ I’ve made scrappy notes on titles here and there. In preparation for writing this I wrote Mark asking for a complete list of everything he’s screened, and then retracted it. I thought more about his decision to offer a new stream each week and not leave the program online in perpetuity. This ephemeral nature makes it feel more like cinema. The dedicated program curation and film introductions hark back to cinema and the audience participation through the livestream chat (which would have boiled my blood circa February 2020!) also feels strangely comforting right now. In my little corner of the world we’ve been locked down again; no cinema for the foreseeable future. So, I’m happy I can ‘turn up’ to a screening on the other side of the Pacific Ocean for surprise films and that familiar sense that I’m back in a room with strangers, being swept along by the same current.