Jan 20, 2023 at 7:30 pm
The Case of the Vanishing Gods
Filmmaker Ross Lipman, Actor David Isaacson & Critic / Writer Dana Stevens will be in attendance for a conversation following the program.
We’re proud to welcome back to UnionDocs, acclaimed filmmaker and restorationist Ross Lipman for an evening with his expansive, mind and genre bending new feature, The Case of the Vanishing Gods, that explores the history of ventriloquism by digging into the archive, the history of cinema, and into a hallucinatory kaleidoscope of references for a very strange journey that asks existential questions about the origins of consciousness and the complicated dualities we live between.
Rachel Elizabeth Jones called it a “deeply ambitious, compelling account of the infinite conflations and permutations of material, cinematic, and psychological territories…a beacon of scrappy existential glory” in The Brooklyn Rail, it was recently named best of 2022 by Jonathan Rosenbaum in ScreenSlate’s year-end round-up and it was named one of the most innovative films at Locarno in 2021 with the Selezione Pixel awarded by Corriere Del Ticino. Lipman himself equates the film to a delightful binge on bonbons in opposition to the often eat-your-veggies celery we may often think of in essay-filmmaking.
While we are lucky to have him grace us here in person, we had to ask him to share one of his singular live documentary shorts to help us christen our new spot in Ridgewood, so the night will begin with Esse and Essay, a meta-essay on the nature and history of essay films. Following the program he will be joined by Actor David Isaacson and Slate’s Movie Critic Dana Stevens who will lead a conversation with them both and the room.
Hope to see you there! Seating is limited so we recommend booking in advance.
Esse and Essay
20min., 2016, Live Performance
Esse and Essay is a live documentary short, a meta-essay on the nature and history of essay films.
The Case of the Vanishing Gods
The Case of the Vanishing Gods is an eclectic documentary / fiction hybrid on the history of ventriloquism, from the prophetic tradition to the present day, as seen in clips from classic and not-so-classic works of cinema. Disguised as an episode of a sci-fi television series, joining live actors with vintage and artist-made puppets, it traces the phenomenon of hearing voices from the oracles of ancient Greece to the bloody spectacle of the modern horror film. At the heart of its eccentric journey is an amnesiac ventriloquist figure whose lost memories comprise a cultural history of our unconscious minds.
Featuring a hallucinatory kaleidoscope of film clips, it expands the possibility of archival documentary and pushes the essay film into exciting new territory.
Runtime: 90 min
Ross Lipman (born 1963) is an independent filmmaker, archivist, and essayist. His films have screened throughout the world and been collected by museums and institutions including the Academy Film Archive, Anthology Film Archives, Northeast Historic Film, the Oberhausen Kurzfilm Archive, Budapest’s Balazs Bela Studios, and Munich’s Sammlung Goetz. His 2015/16 feature NOTFILM was named one of the 10 best films of the year by ARTFORUM, SLATE, and many others.
Formerly Senior Film Restorationist at the UCLA Film & Television Archive, his many restorations include Charles Burnett’s KILLER OF SHEEP, Kent Mackenzie’s THE EXILES, Barbara Loden’s WANDA, the Academy Award-winning documentary THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK, and works by Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Shirley Clarke, Kenneth Anger, Julie Dash, Robert Altman, and John Cassavetes. He was a 2008 recipient of Anthology Film Archives’ Preservation Honors, and is a three-time winner of the National Society of Film Critics’ Heritage Award. His writings on film history, technology, and aesthetics have been published in Artforum, Sight and Sound, and numerous academic books and journals.
In addition to his filmmaking and restoration work, Lipman has also been one of the pioneers in the field of live documentary/performance essay. His most recent work in this form, THE EXPLODING DIGITAL INEVITABLE, on Bruce Conner’s CROSSROADS, premiered in 2017 at the Rotterdam International Film Festival. Noted documentarian Thom Andersen has described Lipman as “one of the most original essay film artists now working in the U.S.” Recent restorations include Nietzchka Keene’s THE JUNIPER TREE featuring Björk, and experimental artist Eleanor Antin’s THE MAN WITHOUT A WORLD. His new film, THE CASE OF THE VANISHING GODS, is slated for premiere in late summer 2021.
David Isaacson is a founding member of Chicago’s Theater Oobleck, of which noted playwright Greg Kotis remarked, “There is no theater company in America that has so consistently created original, excellent, principled theater.” He has written fifteen plays for Oobleck, including The Spy Threw His Voice, Isak Dinesen’s Babette’s Feast, The Making of Freud, Letter Purloined, and Casanova Takes a Bath. As an actor he has appeared in more than thirty Oobleck shows, in roles including Casanova in Casanova Takes a Bath, as Saul Bellow in Jeff Dorchen’s Strauss at Midnight, and improvising as John Wilkes Booth, Marie Curie, and Genghis Khan.
Isaacson’s play Letter Purloined was published by Hope and Nonthings in the 2012 anthology More If You’ve Got It. He is the recipient of an Orgie Award as Best Playwright 2010 for Casanova Takes a Bath. His work has been published in Rust Belt Chicago: An Anthology and The Louisville Review and been featured on Public Radio International’s This American Life.
He is a regular in Chicago’s live-lit scene, appearing at Write Club, Paper Machete, and Beerfly Alleyfight. He has also appeared on stage with The Curious Theatre Branch and Redmoon Theater. On film, he appeared in Catherine Sullivan’s The Last Days of British Honduras.
David has previous experience in the world of ventriloquism: his 1991 play The Spy
Threw His Voice: A Plagiarism in Two Acts featured Jeff Dorchen as a secret
agent/ventriloquist. The Chicago Reader once said “Give Noam Chomsky a speedball, a sense of humor, and a penchant for the absurd and you’d have David Isaacson.”
Dana Stevens has been Slate‘s film critic since 2006. She is also a co-host of the magazine’s long-running weekly culture podcast, the Slate Culture Gabfest, and has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic and Bookforum. She lives with her family in New York.
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