Friday, July 20, 2007

Tales of the Benshi (3)

Neo-Benshi, SF, 7/7/07, FIN:

Konrad Steiner’s performance to a scene (the scene) from “Minority Report” was a phenomenal blend of deep cultural riffing on celebrity cipher Tom Cruise and philosophic reflection on the ontological status of the image. While Cruise pulled and ‘directed’ images across a futuristic screen, Steiner read text that fused puns about “Tommy” (deaf, dumb, and blind) with quotations from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, whose instructions for navigating the “between” state separating life from death chimed eerily with Cruise’s frantic search for himself—his self—in the news feed.

Steiner’s own status as the benshi, narrating and controlling events on the screen framing Tom’s screen, grew progressively more complex as the audience realized that some of the pictures Cruise was manipulating had been slipped into the movie from other sources: the local news, CNN Iraq footage, the notorious 'Tom Cruise episode' of South Park.

This is the third neo-benshi I’ve seen Steiner do; all of them are very funny and entirely serious meditations on the dynamics of manipulation and control involved in the filmmaker's art. I hope sometime he’ll present them together as a trilogy.

David Brazil used the languorous black-and-white tableaux of the Coen brothers’ neo-noir barber picture, “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” as a sort of narrative wallpaper for a dense collage of philosophical texts running from Derrida to Bertrand Russell, whose classic “Barber of Seville” paradox cropped up, happily enough, just as Billy Bob Thornton surveyed the hairscape of another middle American head.

Brazil delivered his lines in a speedy whisper that amped up the cereberal in a movie that's essentially about the cranium and what it sprouts: hair, ideas, and an inexhaustible desire to gaze at its own productions. The scene where Thornton casually shaves Frances McDormand's leg while she's reading in the bath, already sexy, never looked half so smart.

Wayne Smith turned the party scene from Julie Christie breakout picture “Darling” into a droll study of identity confusion. As she moves through the ever nuttier shenanigans of a chic Parisian soiree, the guests recognize her not as her character, but as “Julie Christie,” and address her with all manner of remarks on her once and future fame—Zhivago, her “face like a diamond,” etc. Christie’s in her full ingénue glory, and her uncertainty about how to behave at this bohemian gathering becomes a kind of metaphor for the dislocations of celebrity. (It’s also an excuse to gather up armfuls of fan facts about Christie.) The piece ends with a wild party game involving a march in a circle in African masks, with each guest taking on the role of another. When one male partygoer dons a wig and becomes “Julie Christie,” the crowd begins asking “her” questions about her career. Christie, dressed in a man’s dress shirt and tie, finally comes into her own as someone else, maybe as the benshi of her own life. I can’t really do justice here to Smith’s wit and timing, which made this piece the flat-out funniest of the night.

The evening opened with a creatively re-subtitled Bollywood collage from Brandon Downing's new DVD, Dark Brandon/The Filmi, which defies all description and you'll just have to get when it goes into wider release this Fall.

3 comments:

Dan B. said...

been enjoying this series -- makes me want to get more Benshi into my life.

Got to get more Benshi into my life. Do do do do do do.

Maryrose Larkin said...

These reviews are wonderful.

rodney k said...

Thank you!