Chico native Gretchen Hogue committed to experimental filmmaking
Gretchen Hogue makes movies. It is unlikely, however, that this Chico native will be associated with a summer blockbuster anytime soon.
Many of today’s popular directors have used shorts, or experimental films, to hone their narrative filmmaking techniques, yet Hogue says making traditional feature-length films has never been a long-term goal. “On the other hand, making an experimental feature is definitely something I’ve thought a lot about.”
While attending Bard College in upstate New York a few years ago, Hogue discovered a love for experimental filmmaking and double-majored in literature and film. Her senior project for the film degree was entitled Periphery (2000). It’s a dense, impressionistic piece, an equilibrium-challenged collage of color, scratched film stock, disembodied answering-machine voices and the shadowed responsibilities and physical metamorphosis of womanhood.
Raised in a household where her father Peter Hogue was a professor of film and literature at Chico State University, Gretchen was exposed to more challenging fare than the requisite Star Wars film or E.T., not to mention having the first dad on the block to bring home Mudhoney and Nirvana albums. “My first, strongest memory of seeing films that totally affected my little brain was seeing Stranger than Paradise and Paris, Texas. We listened to Ry Cooder’s Paris, Texas soundtrack during dinner for at least a year.”
Hogue’s enthusiasm for film and discovering new voices is evident when discussing Peggy Ahwesh’s Watching She Puppet as a perspective-changing experience. Ahwesh’s film was basically made out of the Tomb Raider video game. When the gamer ceases to control the character, the video gaming environment continues to affect the character for better or worse, a strange comment on fate perhaps but also something that attracted Hogue to that work and aligns itself to her own work in ways she may not have imagined.
“It’s an intuitive thing,” Hogue insists regarding her actual filmmaking process. “I don’t like having controlled ideas.” She approaches her art with an acceptance of happenstance and the beauty of revelatory “accidents” that inform her moving images—especially in her early work such as (W)hole (1999), Terrorshow (2000) and Periphery, in which the visual image had become by accident rather than rigorous strategizing. Filming is done first, and through the editing the form of the communication takes shape.
While some students at Bard College obsessed over the careful hand processing of their filmed images, Gretchen discovered by accident that the processing chemicals would sometimes become contaminated, causing what should have been black-and-white film to take on a spectrum of colors that could be misconstrued as having been painstakingly drawn onto each frame, one at a time. Add Hogue’s finishing touch of tossing the processed film into the corner of a room to collect dust and scratches, and her natural approach must frustrate filmmaking academics who consult tested methods to achieve similar aesthetics in image.
Despite the heady reference points of her main influences—photographer Cindy Sherman, multi-media artist Miranda July (with whom she worked with on The Swan Tool), filmmaker Stan Brakhage, bands Black Dice and Animal Collective and authors Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon—Hogue’s greatest influences have been her friends in Chico. Notably, Denver, Dylan and Lizzy Latimer, local theater pioneers who transformed their backyard summer theater, The Butcher Shop, into the enduring, artistically relevant Blue Room Theatre.
“That, ultimately, was the biggest thing—when I realized that you can actually do anything you want. That there aren’t any rules or boundaries that you have to adhere to. … You can self-distribute your own film or put your play on in your parents’ back yard. That you can create what you want as well as the venues in which to display it.”
Spring 2005 will see Hogue (currently attending massage school in Portland) return as curator for an evening of the University Film Series at Chico State during Women’s History Month.