June 11, 2006 7:00 pm – Filmforum presents An evening with Kate McCabe

“Filmforum is delighted to host an evening with one of the Southland’s most charming and talented filmmakers, Kate McCabe. Born and raised in Philadelphia, McCabe collaborates with musicians, sound designers and artists to make her films more delicious. Most of the time her films function as a portrait of some kind — sometimes layered in metaphor, others purely documentary in style. She also likes to blur the line between live action photography and animation, with time manipulation techniques both in-camera and with optical printing. (Apparently that is the fault of her masters in Experimental Animation from Cal Art.) Her work on film has been well received in galleries and festivals along with her photos and paintings. A founding member of the art collective Kidnap Yourself (located in the desert near Joshua Tree, CA), Kate’s focus lately has been finishing her first feature SABBIA, her dog Turner Ranch and publishing future art books for Kidnap Yourself.

Tonight will feature a sneak preview of her new film Sabbia, an ecstatic and exploratory film of musical and desert expanses, plus her last short film, Milk and Honey.

Sabbia (2006, 16mm on video, 79 mins., color, stereo sound)

Sabbia is a desert trip inspired by the music of Brant Bjork and visualized by Kate McCabe. Evoking the immeasurable desert landscape and old ghosts of a dusty past, the film beautifully weaves together a tapestry of perfect moments and a raw rock-n-roll way of life. As a form of psychedelic documentary, the film explores the musical wilderness of a weird and sexy Southern California wasteland. Sabbia presents the landscape’s vast sense of space and time and like a mirage, reveals the magic of desert music, art, and soul.

The vastness of the deserts, their sweep and scope and giant emptiness waiting to be filled with raw sound, has always been a prominent theme in Bjork’s music, and it finds suitable expression in McCabe’s airy, untethered visualizations of those parts of California where “wasted” describes the landscape instead of the people. Conjuring in bits and pieces everything from Van Sant’s Gerry to Wilfred Thesiger’s Arabian Sands, Bjork & McCabe’s Sabbia crowds the empty desert with sights and sounds that seem not so much natural as inevitable.

“The desert didn’t make sense to me as a kid. I knew brick houses, kickball on asphalt and subway trains. The desert was something in the movies – something foreign like: foreign legion, Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy, the Technicolor landscapes of Lawrence of Arabia, Mad Max and lost robots on remote planets. Sand to me meant Wildwood, New Jersey. I’ll admit that I had a long-standing crush on California, a deep pull toward all things west. Naturally, west is the direction I headed the minute I had a car that would make it. But the desert was just a blur off the highway in America, something I passed through on my way to Los Angeles. Years after the start of my life in LA, I first saw Brant Bjork up close as he popped onto the sidewalk outside the Whiskey fresh off the stage with Fu Manchu. I straight up told him that I wanted to be him when I grew up, (which would be if I could drum – but I don’t drum, I make pictures.)

“Hearing Brant’s Jalamanta for the first time was an overwhelming visual event. Every project he made thereafter had the same effect — a daydream sound track for a California state of mind, something that was becoming more real to me everyday. I started a film about my California experience called Milk and Honey and I knew that it needed a music that was true to the place. Strangely, I did meet Brant again, not on the sidewalk after a gig, but this time at a show with friends and immediately knew his sound would be the only one that fit. I seized the opportunity to work with him and soon enough was embarking on my first trip to the desert and a new film that became bigger than Brant or I probably even originally envisioned.

“At the start, I was curious if the landscape would be affected by my childhood movie versions of the scene. Brant drew me a killer map (with a key!), and I set out, camera in hand to film ‘the desert.’ Sounded so easy until I realized I was up against an impossible vastness that teased me like a mirage–daring me to draw closer. The desert slowly opened up to me; first it was with snow (which completely baffled me), secondly with kindness from new desert friends, then with oases, vistas, wanderers and ghosts. It even surprised me to find all the hidden water there, which began to seem as abundant as the wind. It felt undeniably like uncovering the secrets of a timeless place and impulsively capturing that optical illusion – keeping it genuine all the while. Much as I think Brant does when he makes such solid visual music. For this kind of film, so much is based on following that impulse, making your timing be your everything and patiently believing in well-founded chance.

“I moved to the desert since I started this project, and the only way to describe that phenomenon is that it spoke to me. Called me to come, open up and stay and that I did, because in person, this place is better than the movies. I know in my heart that I can never fully record on film a landscape in its entirety that is as vast, weird, wonderful and achingly beautiful as this. But – I can share with people that part of the magic that spoke to me, that part that challenged me like a mirage to visualize Brant’s soundscape — dared me to come nearer.” — Kate McCabe

Milk and Honey (1994, 16mm color film, 16 mins.)
An experimental ‘home movie’, the film exposes the nature of light, love and moon landings in the Promised Land of Southern California. When I started to shoot Milk and Honey I knew I had begun to capture moments that could transport the viewer between worlds of light and shadow to a place of tangible nostalgia.
The film became a record of how secluded one can become in California or anywhere else. In Los Angeles people come to live their dreams and as a result dreams are more real there. Yet human connectedness is different in parts, the sprawl and the automobile seem to take us further away from each other than before. Moving to Los Angeles seemed to me like traveling to a remote planet and we were astronauts hovering within its borders isolated in a strange sanctuary. Milk and Honey allows you to drift into that twilight world and dream of home. — Kate McCabe

Credits for Milk and Honey and Sabbia:
Sound Design: George Lockwood
Music: Brant Bjork
Photography & Direction: Kate McCabe

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About Jay Babcock

I am an independent writer and editor based in Tucson, Arizona. In 2022: I publish a weeklyish email newsletter called LANDLINE = https://jaybabcock.substack.com Previously: I co-founded and edited Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curated the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages, Grand Royal and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was somehow listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. From 2010 to 2021, I lived in rural wilderness in Joshua Tree, Ca., where I practiced with Buddhist teacher Ruth Denison and was involved in various pro-ecology and social justice activist activities.

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