16: The films of Mike Henderson
Between the late 1960s and the mid 1980s, painter, Blues musican, and filmmaker Mike Henderson produced a body of approximately thirty 16mm films. Though never very widely seen, these works represent a range, sensibility, and vision that confirm Henderson as a film artist due for serious rediscovery.
Raised in Marshall, Missouri, Henderson moved to San Francisco in the mid-1960s to study painting, quickly befriending Bay Area figures such as William T. Wiley, Bruce Nauman, and Jay DeFeo, while also developing a reputation as both a documenter and performer of the Blues. An early encounter with life-long friend Robert Nelson inspired Henderson – already interested in the possibilities offered by cinema – to add filmmaking to his expanding artistic practice. Nelson introduced Henderson to the basic cinematic tools he needed, and with a minimum of instruction and a deep pool of ideas and ambition, he embarked on a series of utterly unique and memorable short films.
Reflecting an unusual synthesis of his music and painting backgrounds, the films include audiovisual compositional experiments, absurdist musings on creativity, and Blues-driven performative pieces about Black identity and history, all rendered in a powerful and unadorned DIY directness. In Henderson’s films, ideas about expectation and perception, cultural signifiers, or the nature of art-making itself are distilled into concentrated cinematic objects which are marked by incredible wit, feeling, and a sophisticated sense of visual expression and play.
This program – his first solo film show in Europe for decades – features 16mm restorations from the Academy Film Archive, and spans the breadth of his cinematic spectrum. (Mark Toscano)
Special thanks to Mark Toscano for curating this program, the Academy Film Archive and NYFF.