For the Love of Karl

Title card, no caption necessary.

I’ve whined enough. Sure, I’m broke, old and I never leave the house but the motivation to see a bunch of Karl Lind short films was strong. Despite a low-grade feverish, mild sickliness I’d been feeling, a slight cold that was neither arriving nor going away, I kept thinking I can’t bag this. Every filmmaker in this town deserves an audience especially when their work is packaged up neatly and shown at as nice an auditorium as the Whitsell. Karl was kind enough to offer a promo code to defray the cost. My lack of money was no longer an issue. I kept thinking I can’t not do this, no excuses, no thoughts of having too many other things to do. This focus on getting to the screening became the mantra, “for the love of Karl.” I imagined myself holding a sign with the slogan in the back of the theater. Later, I realized this approach would have resembled a character out of one of his films.

Karl Lind warms up the crowd. Ben Popp stands by.

I have a long history with Karl steeped in mystique. I knew his films would fill in the blanks. Initially it was someone who knew him, their name since forgotten, who spoke of this filmmaker Karl Lind. It started a legend. There was the time I saw him judging entries at a film event at Disjecta. I was impressed by the elbow patches on his blazer. The first movie I saw of his was at a Portland Underground Film Festival screening at the Clinton Theater. I went to see a Jim Haverkamp short but Karl’s film caught my attention with an excellent supporting role and music by Ron Gassaway. Somewhere in the dark theater was Karl. Years later we worked a Puppet Software video conference job and I got to pick his brain. From social media I discovered his  pinball obsession and Devo fandom. I even got him into an online sparing match with a filmmaker something about a scene in a short film where he’d be in his underwear holding a chicken. I only jokingly thought Karl would be right for the job. There was also an appearance on the Peasant Revolution Band Variety Hour TV show that I directed. Getting to know Karl the person is still different from knowing his filmmaker persona. Finally the screening which happened Thursday, February 8 offered me a chance to see the other side.

Walk in the Rain, 2003

Fourteen short films later a question and answer session followed. Karl mentioned he was impressed with the amount of questions being asked. It was opportunity to find out more about his creative process. He talked about collaborating and compulsion being the reason he makes films. His methodology was described as “dealing with chaos and a lot of repetition.” A love for cartoons inspired some of his more frenetic style. I was struck by Karl embrace of the rough edges of video which gave his films a textured feel notably in the unfinished A Walk in the Rain from 2003, a film that is exactly what the title describes.

Later when I looked at my notes scribbled in the dark scrambled lines jotted at odd angles, I laughed that it took on the feel of one of Karl’s films. There had been an bombardment of images to sort out. I had also been taking pictures of the movies for film stills. I never wanted to be that guy fiddling with my phone at the movies but there I was. One film in particular captured the spirit of Karl. I got so caught up in it that when it was over I realized I hadn’t taken any photos. The video was a Devo song covered by a local band The Hand That Bleeds. I could equate Karl’s creative personality with the character he played—a lab coat wearing scientist type with an assistant frantically juggling 2001, a Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes film references with Gorilla costumes, goofy props—yes, that was a big red button on the bureaucrat’s desk, and mixing it all up as if he was making any of his other films. The video ended with a brain cut out of a man’s skull bursting into flames, an appropriate metaphor for anyone absorbing his movies.

Striping, 2006

In a collaboration with poet Cat Tyc, copious amounts of distorted video and digital hash were employed providing fragmented blocks of color. Karl explained this by rattling off the brands of various cameras followed by numbers and letters which brought a smile to my face.

Karl Still Ron Meditation

Meditating with Angels, 2011

Collaboration included editing visuals for poets reading poems and making music videos. Karl’s Meditating with Angels was the film I remembered seeing years ago. It used special effects and a guided meditation narration written by Jennifer Keyser to create a humorous look at the process of meditation.

The pre-show hype had been good. In their Get Busy section, Willamette Week proclaimed that “Karl Lind makes some weird-ass abstract films” while Ron Gassaway posted on Facebook about Karl’s showcase being a chance to see films that are “politically inquisitive and socially surreal but never boring, fusing strong compositions and fresh aesthetics with comedic undertones and thoughtful timing.”  My overview was how his films speak to “the increasing onslaught of visual and aural clutter people are constantly bombarded with in today’s world.”

“Fearless Leader” by Rustlah

With budgets for his projects ranging from “little to no money” Karl seems to use ingenuity to create stylized music videos. His work for the song “Fearless Leader” by Rustlah employed green screen technology as well as other video trickery for maximum visual impact.

“Handrea” by Banimal

I was also able to see the long-awaited Banimal video “Handrea,” another demonstration of resourcefulness that created a humorous narrative. The video had a gritty appeal that centered around the bad dream scenario of the main character dating himself in drag.

Lullaby, 2003

Karl described the use of found footage as the oldest trick in the book but it’s really more about how images are used with narration or a piece of music. In the end if guys in gas masks are cross dissolved with the spotlight of a film projector something compelling is happening.

Untitled video

I learned more about a possible Charles Bronson fixation Karl might have along with his willingness to step in front of the camera. The last video screened, whose title I’m still waiting on, featured a naturalistic performance by a convenience store owner. In the store, Karl’s character struggles to put together enough change to buy a 40 and a can of Spaghetti O’s, a commentary on the rigors of life as an independent filmmaker perhaps? Always committed to his projects, Karl shamelessly sports a pair of pantyhose on his head and endures a slow motion beat down from a golf club wielded by the clerk as he exits the store.

Karl Still Poem CU

Frozen Sea

Karl Lind: Video Collaborations & Unclassifiable Video Ephemera offered a chance to see the evolution of a filmmaker’s work. Karl might be more comfortable with the term devolution. I thanked Ben Popp, maybe too profusely. He’s the Film Services Manager and Programmer at the NW Film Center who showcased Karl’s work. They go back ten years to their micro cinema days. Seeing these films was the realization of what I hoped living in Portland would be—that chance to see the work of a local filmmaker of some renown on the big screen. Sure I still had more questions than answers, but Karl’s a friendly guy. Someday he’ll explain everything.

* * * * *

The NW Film Centers next local filmmaker showcase will feature the work of Jason Rosenblatt and be held on Thursday, March 15 at 7pm at the Whitsell Auditorium.





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