Alex Westhelle

The Film Series -- Part One, Alex Westhelle

It has gradually emerged from the happenings of everyday life that there are quite a few people in the area of Crown Heights that I take an interest in who are involved with film.  With this article I am beginning a series to profile the various people somehow attached to the film industry, be it as writers, projectionists, make up and hairstylists, grips, actors or documentarians.  There was brief brush with Disney.  Someone from that organization wondered if the Lincoln Block Association building on New York and Lincoln might make a good background for a film, and some film was actually shot on Lincoln between Brooklyn and New York.  So to start with I decided to profile Alex Westhelle who lives on the very same block of Lincoln.

I met him at his home, and he was good enough to speak with me even though he had a cold.  I discovered that Alex was born in Norwalk, Connecticut.  He is now in his late 20's.  His father is a businessman, but his mother works as an opthalmic nurse, dealing with the human eye, and Alex's older brother was for a time interested in acting.  Alex and his good friend Nigel studied Japanese in high school and Nigel eventually married a woman of Japanese descent.  The three of them share an apartment.

Interest in how the eye sees and things Japanese are themes that developed when Alex was in college.  There he became a member of the film society; his role was to be the projectionist for reel-to-reel films that the society rented, and he was deeply influenced by the films of Kurosawa, particularly "The Seven Samurai" as well as the films of Jacques Tati.  The Kurosawa masterpiece led to an interest in other Samurai films in which one can come to see the violence contained in an elaborate set of rules both from Japanese social history and also Japanese film practice.  So added to Alex's initial interest was a developing knowledge of film and also an interest in the technology of a certain era that has been surpassed by the digital age but has not been totally given up.  Just as certain people collect LP records and even make new ones, so there are people who use old film stock, shoot it with old style cameras, develop and show it on reel-to-reel projectors.  Alex is one of these people.

His work as a projectionist for the film society segued into an internship and then a job with a non-profit that acquired old films and sought to find a permanent home for them.  Alex acted as film handler for this company.  His film work  has continued with other entities.  He now works as a projectionist with MOMA and Film Anthology, and this is how he makes a living.

However, Alex is also interested in film making, but not in the usual collaborative way.  He prefers to work as a solo artist, working on a small scale but also with complete control of what he is doing.  He shoots with a Super 8 and has recently acquired a 16mm camera.  Up until now he has conducted experiments.  He showed me one of his films.  The film starts showing what seem to be pulsing shapes that reminded me of video I saw of human organs in action, the heart and lungs and circulating blood.  Later there was a dog's face (I believe Alex recruited his roommates Akita for the part).  Again the film pulses showing a pair of eyes being slowly buried by white material until they are gone.  There is no music, and there is no story in the usual sense of the word, but there are interesting effects that might be combined into a discrete film.

Alex is doing original and challenging work, and one looks forward to the show at a small venue, perhaps with Alex running the projector and a group of friends and colleagues in the audience.  Perhaps there would be a Q&A at the end and someone would ask Alex what comes next.  I for one, would like to be in that audience and would be interested to hear the answer.

-- John DeWind

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