Friday, May 09, 2008

The New Talkies in Portland, 5/3/08: Poppins


Maryrose Larkin said...

It's very serious.

konrad said...

Out of the mouths of Etruscans!

If there was a thread that ran through most of the program, it was the thread of demise.

Let's count the ways: cheered-on public euthanasia, false confession by torture, censorship and alcoholism, cultural eclipse, murder, lost history, limbo and reincarnation, and finally: poisoning.

This is not to say that the pieces on this show lacked for laughs, or that we were all somber and preachy. But what kind of time we're living in ought to inflect our arts. Maybe someone should benshi up Grand Theft Auto, following in the footsteps of Phil Solomon's recent haunting video-detournement of that game, Last Days in a Lonely Place (2007) or Peggy Ahwesh's earlier She Puppet (2002), where she recorded her play of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider which deliberately avoided its mandate of murder.

Like these works of experimental video, Rodney's piece itself treats the chromo-saturated shadows of the "Love to Laugh" scene from Disney's Mary Poppins like characters from video games. Video games are after all descendants of cartoons, but with us as spectators kind of meeting them halfway (call it Cartoon 2.0), extending the 'suspension of disbelief' just a bit further, to vivify the figures on the cave-screen that cinema paints.

But who's holding the joystick in this piece? "I've got just the idea. Let's pretend we're real things! But nobody wants our chatter.... Oh, I don't know why I just said that!" An Etruscan premonition.

Doesn't that mock the neo-benshi role itself? Koeneke's script is shot through with gags perching on just that fence between filling the form and questioning it: these gleeful Etruscans here remind me of David Larsen's Trojans in his earlier piece, the artful ones who'd rather prance than fight, or even the marauding Tibetans (more feared than the Mongols in their time) who laid down their ferocious arms centuries ago to pursue an inward path .... ha: suckers! And when Koeneke overlays the English proper versus American vulgate conflict (between Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews), the joke gets megaphoned onto history's stage: who ventriloquizes whom, whose turn is it with the remote ... who gets muted? And as for now: which American is not complicit in the echo of the demise of such cultures? We're 21st Century Romans struggling to internet, uh, i mean assimilate, no uh, i mean bring democracy to the world not with a hegemonic English (so Victorian a stratagem), but rather with The Movies and Monsanto's patents.

That man whose blog this is first mocked the neo-journalistic literati salon with his neo-benshi script for Pyaasa in 2005, which neatly shifted the actual film scenario of a house reading, hosted by a patron of the art and usurped by a marginal poet cum busboy, into a modern day scene simply with the line "I have blogged favorably of each." Here that tastemaker pastime is echoed and distorted with glee, couch-potatoed in low-class diction, "You gotta blog that! Go blog!"

And throughout the interplay of moving picture and voice, the shadow dialog of Koeneke's piece, there is another metaphor, that of disease. Speaking for others, voiceover history, neo-benshi, is a kind of advanced technology that might just give you a cancer, one we have no radiation for.

At the same time listening to this piece you're intermittantly laughing just like the shadows you can't hear. But over again the live voice hesitates, drops register, and even sometimes remonstrates: "hey guys, it's not that funny."