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The Films of Fred Camper

Saturday, Jan 14, 2023 at 6:30 pm

Location: Redstone Theater

Post-Screening discussion with Fred Camper 

Though artist and critic Fred Camper is justifiably revered within avant-garde and auteurist circles for his writings on Stan Brakhage, Douglas Sirk, and other directors, his own filmmaking efforts have received far less attention. In the late 1960s, Camper produced five shorts , which drew inspiration from Brakhage, Gregory J. Markopoulos, Douglas Sirk, and many others, forming a coherent body of work and developing a layered and formally complex way of seeing that is  uniquely his own. Out of distribution since the mid-1970s, Camper’s films have been shown together only once in the years following, at Patrick Friel’s White Light Cinema in Chicago in 2011. Now, working directly with Camper, the Chicago Film Society has preserved all five films from the original elements. Available once again, only on 16mm per Camper’s wishes, the films demonstrate that Camper is not only one of our most invaluable film critics but also a formidable artist.

Special thanks to Jed Rapfogel (Anthology Film Archives) and Kyle Westphal (Chicago Film Society). All films preserved by Chicago Film Society. Dan Potter and Bathroom preserved with the support of the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF). Welcome to Come and A Sense of the Past preserved through the NFPF’s Avant-Garde Masters Grant Program and the Film Foundation; funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation. 

Total Runtime: approx. 79 mins. plus reel breaks 

All film descriptions by Fred Camper: 


Joan Goes to Misery (1967, 8 mins., 16mm) 

Both a “short story”—a film about a girl who rejects “reality” to live in her own private world—and a film about progressive states of mind. Joan goes to a two-room apartment, removes wigs, false eyelashes, makeup; depressed at her own appearance, she lies on the bed and over-eats. The soundtrack (“It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to…”) adds irony to her “orgy.” But it is her isolation from human contact, and her entrance into a self-indulgent fantasy world that are central “themes” of the film. 

A Sense of the Past (1967, 4 mins., 16mm, silent) 

[This explicit homage to Stan Brakhage] was shot without pre-planning during a long weekend reading Henry James, and I would like to think that its form was somewhat influenced by his passive descriptions that seem to both evoke and conceal great, not fully articulated, traumas. 

Dan Potter (1967-68, 39 mins. 16mm, silent)  

Though not a portrait, it was inspired by the way Gregory J. Markopoulos’s portraits in Galaxie intermingle the identities of his figures with objects around them; less obvious influences are F.W. Murnau’s Tabu and the relationships between figures and backgrounds in the films of Howard Hawks. 

Welcome to Come (1968, 3 mins. 16mm) 

As much a fragment as a completed film, it suggests more than it answers: an almost-mystical suggestion of an idea. A long slow zoom from a warm room interior to a close shot of dark blue tree branches seen outside the window. A film about the eye’s ability to move subjectively from one place to a completely different one; about the ability of the imagination to discover and enter “other worlds” hidden amidst the surface clutter of everyday surroundings. 

Bathroom (1968–69, 25 mins. 16mm, silent)  

Bathroom shows a somewhat seedy bathroom, beginning with a stab at seeing it “objectively” that soon fails; the forms descend into what I hope is a terrifying, even self-destroying irrationality. One inspiration was the long take depiction of madness at the end of Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour; another, the two out-of-focus shots of the altar near the end of Douglas Sirk’s The First Legion. 

Tickets: $15 / $11 senior and students / $9 youth (ages 3–17) / discounted for MoMI members ($7–$11). Order tickets. Please pick up tickets at the Museum’s admissions desk upon arrival. All seating is general admission. Review safety protocols before your visit.