Five Films by Fred Camper

with Fred Camper

Friday, October 6, 2023 7:00pm - 8:30pm
Logan Center Screening Room

Fred Camper’s incisive film reviews ran in the Chicago Reader from 1986 through 2010, but long before he was a celebrated critic he was a young cineaste absorbing ideas and images he glimpsed while programming 16mm screenings at the MIT Film Society. Soon he turned to making films himself. Armed with a few rolls of Ektachrome and the crudest technical equipment, Camper turned his Cambridge rooming house into an expansive cinematic constellation, finding infinite reward in a patch of peeling paint in the bathroom or the leaves outside his window. Drawing equally from Stan Brakhage and Howard Hawks, Gregory Markopolous and Douglas Sirk, Camper’s films are omnivorous explorations of the everyday. Camper’s five 16mm shorts represent a unique synthesis of his seemingly disparate influences, often locating an aesthetic epiphany in a forgotten work of Hollywood cinema and extrapolating a rigorous and suggestive way of seeing that can be applied to non-narrative ends. (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. 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.


Joan Goes to Misery (1967) - 8 min - 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 min -  16mm

[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 (1968) - 39 min - 16mm

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 min - 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 (1969) - 25 min - 16mm

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.


Fred Camper is a Chicago-based artist, writer and lecturer on film, art, and photography. He has written on cinema for most of his life and been an art critic and arts journalist since 1989. He currently teaches at Columbia College Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.