Myths, Legends, and Lies curated by Jim Trainor
On October 24th, Myths, Legends, and Lies, a program of ten experimental films curated by Jim Trainor, was screened in the Gene Siskel Film Center. The show included works by Zack Stiglicz, Ben Russell, Martha Colburn, Chris Sullivan, Hugh Harmon, Lewis Klahr, Anne Severson and an anonymous short from 20's. Jim Trainor's program is coherent not because filmmakers have similar visual styles but because they approach the same subject with very different perspectives.
The first film, Martha Colburn's Evil of Dracula, perfectly sets the tone for the rest. Images of ordinary people who are either laughing or smiling succeed one another. They seem to be out of magazines that brainwash people to live a very superficial lifestyle: nice costumes, happy faces, pop music, etc. Dracula's teeth, eyes or ears drawn or pasted on those happy faces and the blood-red flowing through abstract veins on the background further increases our alienation with the images. Moreover, the superficiality of the images is underlined by bright colors used to hand-paint the costumes or the background. Martha Colburn invites us to question the idea of happiness as presented by the popular culture.
Lewis Klahr's Pony Glass, my personal favorite, attacks a similar subject with a very different style. He animates the collages to tell the melodramatic story of Superman's friend Jimmy Olsen in search of his sexual identity. In the story, Olsen first falls in love with a girl, then loses her to a guy and finally has a relationship with the guy. Lewis Klahr achieves a balance between showing the superficiality of the dramas in our culture and expressing the emotions of an individual trapped in that superficiality by using the "popular images" to tell a personal story. We never hear the dialogues but we understand that people are talking by the balloons popping up similar to the comic books. Lewis Klahr never gives us the time to read them as if they were not important, suggesting that the words are not good enough to communicate the real emotions. In the world filled with images imposed on individuals, finding the true sexual identity seems to be a very difficult pursuit.
The voice-over has a very crucial presence in both of Zack Stiglicz's films. In Aristophanes on Broadway, a narrator tells Plato's tale: Different genders were formed when Zeus decided to split a creature into two, so that, in order to become whole again woman and man had to "unite" in love. Negatives of a Gay Pride Parade with hand-painted bright colors have an ethereal feeling that suits the mythical mood of the voiceover. In God the Pugilist, a narrator tells a mythic story about Gods and their relationships with humans and other Gods. The images of Gods and different characters, cut out of books and magazines and held by the filmmaker's hand, move in the Yitaca ruins and landscape. In both films, we are led to see real events or objects in a mythical perspective and experience them as fairy-tales rather than reality.
In his opening remarks, Jim Trainor emphasized that the program was "more about lies than anything else". In today's society, the culture constantly creates new stories and heroes and they are easily distributed through the mass media. Most of these stories try to present our lives in an unrealistic way either by overdramatizing or by offering a superficial perspective. Most of them fail to capture the real emotions of the individuals. Many films in Trainor's program and especially the four films I mentioned above, both criticize the way culture limits the individual and try to break those limitations by creating new forms to approach their subjects.
- A link that has a scene from Pony Glass. It gives you some idea on its style, but almost no idea on its beauty.
- About Pony Glass in Canyon Cinema
- About Zack Stiglicz in Canyon Cinema
- Fred Camper's article about Klahr's melodramatic films.
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