by Abigail Child
Thinking lately about constellational structure, or what I have been calling "impossible films’: not mash-ups so much as "uneven." The latter a term used to describe a certain kind of poetics that meld different kinds of material in digressive or associative or unequal parts, that constitute a “polymorphous dexterity” rather than simple description1.
The beginning of the year saw a show of Japanese Avant-garde at MoMA which included the fragmentary and stupendous film Sho o suteyo, Machi e deyo (Throw Away Your Books, Let’s Go onto the Streets,) 1971, 137 min., 35mm, color. This was the first feature written and directed by Terayama Shûji, who worked with the Art Theater Guild and had been writing scenarios since 1960. Like most of Terayama’s projects, this film is one manifestation of a work that spanned several different media. From a detailed article by Steve Ridgeley, I quote: “Sho o suteyo, machi e deyô was first a play, but only tangentially connected to the Tenjô Sajiki troupe that Terayama and others had formed in 1967. The play-version was an experiment with stage verité, traveling around Japan recruiting teenage poets from the area to read their work onstage. It had no script. Sho o suteyo, machi e deyô was also the title of multi-media book written by Terayama with art and layout by the artist Yokoo Tadanori, and was published just ten days before the release of the film. The film, then, is best understood as a mixture of these two former projects, several narrative elements (such as soccer) and the collage-like feel are drawn from the book version, but the Kitamura Eimei side is truly Sasaki Eimei’s story, one he had told on the stage and lived in real life. Much of the script for the film itself was rewritten by Eimei the day before shooting began. 2
For this viewer the mix-up includes street theater that is funny and poignant, intercut with the story of Eimei and a rejection of family, or disassociation of family, that culminates (in part) from the rape of his sister by soccer teammates in their locker room. Mother/father /sister/brother (Eimei) seem continuously at odds with each other, misunderstanding needs and dreams. Unable to negotiate, caught in the welter of both social and personal disfunction, Eimei wanders the streets, visits a brothel and imagines (?) a flying machine: a scene that turns suddenly to color with green and purple filters. These disorienting amalgams —these messes—are tantalizing and provocative. The last shot is of the entire cast lined up with the camera panning across their faces. Audaciously both a psychological study and a call for psycho-social revolution, Throw Away Your Book, Let’s Go Onto the Streets is a portrait of change, uncertainty and the dystopian society of 60s Japan.
Another Impossible in this heralding: the amazing series curated by Ernest Larson and Sherry Milner at Anthology this fall, hosted by Flaherty: GLOBAL REVOLT: CINEMATIC AMMUNITION.
To full houses, these groups of films screened on alternate Tuesdays constructing a dialogue between different countries and different genres. In one program States of Exception, Exceptional States: The Iron Grip of Nationalism included films from Israeli and Syrian filmmakers. In both, persons call across borders, confronting each other: the personal unable to conquer the nation state, yet restless and piercing in her need. In another evening a film made from dissolving VHS tape provided destroyed chaotic images that gave a clearer material sense of riot than a more standard doc might. The curators reinforced the dialogic nature of their curatorial project each evening by bringing in filmmakers and an interviewer to speak after the films. Questions were open to the audience. The fifth night included a Skype interview with the Canadian John Greyson who spoke to his recent Egyptian imprisonment and the drawings made while incarnated that formed one of the films that had just been shown. A rare moment in New York with new audiences primed for relevant work about lives in conflict.
Still another experimental Impossible: MAMADADA, a collectively made Feminist bio-drama on the life of the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, avant-garde performance artist, sculptress and poet of the early 20th century. Published in the modernist poetry magazines of her time, the Baroness is perhaps the origin of the famous urinal that Duchamp exhibits [creating a provocatively feminist twist to Conceptualism if true]. She describes Duchamp in her poetry as her “cast-iron lover” and her own sculpture is composed of plumbing materials; one of which is called “God.” The two coordinators Cassandra Guam and Lily Benson asked 50 artists to contribute short pieces on The Baroness’ life. Each was assigned a moment to re-present. The result was a true collation: including animation, re enactment, abstraction, play and drama. My contribution (indeed I was a participant) was inspired by an event lost in development where Man Ray and Duchamp made a film of the Baroness shaving her pubic hair. In this case, I filmed a smoky punky and sexy homage, multiplying genders for both object and agent.
A last impossible—UNBOUND: Scenes from the Life of Mary Shelley, my feature film that is constructed as a constellation of history, re-enactment and lyrical landscape in an analog/digital derangement, wherein I hack my own earlier feature A Shape of Error to reveal process and a more painterly abstract. Abetted by digital technology, I have ‘exploded’ the original. Herein, the imaginary home movies and landscape of Italy are unwound, opening a door for cinematic narrative that comes closer to dream space or multi spaced reveals and disclosures. The result is digressive, looped, unpredictable, symphonic, spontaneous, and messy—much like life and memory. A job to bring this stubborn beast of Narrative into sublime submission….. and the discovery, perhaps, of a new way to open and expand...into more impossible chapters. 3 Forward ….on towards the future!
1 I have used the word “constellation” inspired by a series at Union Docs this winter curated by Melissa Ragona and Frederico Windhausen, including “Aesthetic of the Fragment” and “Re-enactments”. Re polymorphous dexterity in poetic criticism, see: http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/bernstein/blog/archive/Parkett.html
2 For a longer essay on this film and filmmaker: http://www.japansociety.org/resources/content/3/0/1/4/documents/Sho%20o%20suteyo%20Ridgely.pdf
3 An interview with me and poet/publisher Laura Hinton about the techne and concepts underlying UNBOUND: http://www.chantdelasirene.com/2013/06/exploding-film-text-normal-0-false.html