3/17, 8PM - CFA Out of the Vault: Robert Stiegler—Light Play

Directed by: Robert Stiegler

Chicago native Robert Stiegler (1938-1990) was one of the many amazing filmmakers and artists in the 1950s and '60s to have come out of the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology (which was still operating in the spirit of its late founder, the legendary Bauhaus artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy), and became a pioneering photography instructor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a crucial member of the independent film community in the city. This program highlights the influence of Moholy-Nagy’s teachings on his work, in particular his use of light and interest in formal experimentation. Multiple exposures, negative film stock, and sequences of rapid edits are used to construct fluid sequences and layers of movement through urban space in the city of Chicago. Merging abstraction and the documentation of everyday experience, these films are stunning explorations of light and film as a material.  

At the beginning of Capitulation, Stiegler inverts the black and white film into negative, transforming a snowy landscape into a strange and alien planet. Later in the film, he heads to downtown Chicago, filming the crowds walking by and editing them into a frenzy of shuffling, slight glances, and the occasional wave. Long exposures, time lapses, and superimpositions abound, as he experiments with disrupting the regular motion of our busy modern society in continually new and fascinating ways. Chicago is again the subject at the beginning of Full Circle, as Stiegler films while moving through the Loop with John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” on the soundtrack. But Stiegler is not content to remain there, and as the film progresses, it encompasses a variety of found footage (including cartoons and celebrity photographs) and audio, as well as documentary footage of a lakeside Be-in and housework. It ends with children playing and smiling to the tunes of the Beatles. In Licht Spiel Nur I (literally “Light Play”) Stiegler combines still images of light in motion in rapid succession, creating an entangled mass of color and line that dances on screen. The earliest film on the program, Traffic, is Stiegler's entry in what seems to have been a mini-genre in mid-century Chicago: the driving film. 


Traffic (1960, 8 min, 16mm)
“An investigation of what a motion picture camera can do in the hands of a good driver” (Stiegler)

Capitulation (1965, 22 min, 16mm)
“A guided voyage through a negative world. A subjective view of the world and self” (Stiegler)

Licht Spiel Nur (1967, 3 min, 16mm)
“Abstracted footage shot with a camera, each frame time-exposed to create different light qualities. Cutting was based on a musical form much like a Bach fugue. The film contains both real and synthesized color.” (Stiegler)

Full Circle (1968, 24 min, 16mm)

“A contemporary Koan. A series of highs, encompassing people: waiting for the bus, laying tiles at Swami’s house, celebrating a Spring Be-in and children smiling.” (Stiegler)


The Chicago Film Archives is a regional film archive dedicated to identifying, collecting, preserving and providing access to films that represent the Midwest. 


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