Thursday, July 19, 2007

Tales of the Benshi (2)

More from the neo-benshi show in San Francisco on 7/7/07:

Amanda Davidson transformed trash-Eighties period piece "Firestarer" into a parable of the American MFA industry, with Drew Barrymore as the would-be Acker-toting experimentalist crushed by "the program" intent on reducing her to a nice, quietudinous little girl. Her performance repurposed a middling kitchen sink coming-of-age suburban wreckage fantasy to satirize the infantilization and patriarchal privilege implicit in the mentor/student relationship the MFA generally peddles. When Drew let loose at the end with the "fire of inspiration" (industry standard value-add), you could feel the heat all the way back in the nosebleeds.

Jennifer Nellis also deflected a film to matters literary, using an obscure made-for-T.V. episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" to ventriloquize an imaginary debate between Hans Arp, Tzara, and Dali over the likely market future of Surrealism. The drama featured a male patient in a hospital gown whom Nellis figured as a pregnant Tzara trying to "give birth" to a new artistic movement. Some of the dialogue was drawn from manifestos Surrealist and Dada, and radiated the thunderous pomposity that renders that particular era of the future so endearingly quaint. Nellis matched the language to the drama in a way that skewered male avant-garde pretentions while honoring (envying?) their earnestness about art. Her slyly ambivalent treatment of yesteryear's avants seemed symptomatic (it was a doctor flick, after all) of where we are now vis-à-vis the drive for an "art of tomorrow."

The high point of the piece was when a doctor with a powerful resemblance to Salvador Dali appeared on screen as, you guessed it, Salvador Dali. Poetry, least celebrity-prone of the arts, seems to find a deft way to work out its perpetual inferiority complex with neo-benshi, which gives it a chance to imagine an alternate reality where artists are important enough to star in movies.

1 comment:

John Sakkis said...

i think nellis performed/premired the same piece earlier this year as well, at spt.

one of my favorites.