Armed with special film-handling gloves, a pencil, and the National Film Preservation Foundation’s The Film Preservation Guide, we began tackling Eiko & Koma’s moving image collection today.
When I say “we,” I really mean Patsy. Handling archival film is well beyond my area of expertise, so I just watched, fascinated, as Patsy donned her cotton gloves, sniffed the film (chemically degrading film gives off a vinegary smell), and unspooled it to determine the film stock and winding direction. She even improvised a light box using her cellphone so she could examine the film images with a loupe.
We were almost immediately stymied by two reels, one marked “Eiko Koma thin copy,” and another marked “thick W.P.” Upon examination, both reels contained images of nothing but candles, thin and thick. Patsy was able to determine that the film stock dated from the mid-1980s, but I couldn’t think of any pieces from then that involved film of candles. A quick email to Eiko in Japan determined that the candle images were projected at the beginning of By the River (1986). My search through Eiko & Koma’s press binders determined that the filmmaker was David Geary. Mystery solved.
Our next puzzle came with two canisters labeled “Night Tide with scratch.” Night Tide (1984) is such an iconic piece: a bare stage with only the unclad Eiko & Koma, each in their own pool of light, moving imperceptibly but inexorably towards one another. What are those mysterious images on the film, and when were they used in Night Tide? I consulted reviews for the dance’s premiere at Dance Theater Workshop and discovered that the piece did indeed originally open with a projection by Amy Guggenheim, described by Burt Supree in the Village Voice as “a hard-to-identify, bluish film image that pulses as if seem through the flicker of dragonfly wings” (February 21, 1984, p. 94). No wonder Patsy and I couldn’t identify the image through the loupe!
The fourteen items inventoried today only represent a small fraction of Eiko & Koma’s moving image collection. I’m sure we’ll encounter many more mysteries before the inventory is complete.