Thursday, October 04, 2007

Film Review #127: Some Kind of Loving
Curator: Astria Suparak
Directors: Karen Yasinsky, Jane Gang, Jennifer Reeder, Stephanie Barber, Peggy Ahwesh

In 1996, when the filmmaker, performance artist and writer Miranda July was living in Portland, Oregon and nine years before writing, directing and starring in her theatrical feature film debut, Me and You and Everybody We Know (2005), she hatched a video subscription project to showcase the short-form movies that women were making. Belying her foot in the art world and the genre cross-overs involved in much of indie filmmaking, July’s idea was to invite “curators” to pull together thematic collections of shorts that would be compiled on VHS, mailed to participants and series subscribers, and offered for sale to the public. Then she and each tape curator would tour film festivals, screening events and art venues as each new edition came out.

Originally titled Big Miss Movieola, the series became Joanie4Jackie with its first release, July’s own Joanie4Jackie4Ever. Eventually the series produced thirteen of these videotapes, the most recent in 2002. The series’ pace accelerated considerably after the success of the third, Some Kind of Loving, made in Brooklyn in the summer of 2000 by Astria Suparak. That fall, July and Suparak took Some Kind of Loving and July’s multimedia performance The Swan Tool on a fourteen-date tour up and down the Pacific coast between Vancouver to Santa Cruz, earning widespread critical praise in new media and feminist magazines at every stop.

Just an hour long, Suparak’s Some Kind of Loving comprises six shorts by five women. A couple are older – the final one, for example, Peggy Ahwesh’s powerful and disturbing Martina’s Playhouse, dates from 1989. They ranged in length from five minutes to 20. They represent various ways to make movies – low-grade video, hand-processed super-8 film, optical printing, stop-motion animation and manipulated found footage.

Suparak is the recently-fired founding director of Syracuse University’s Warehouse Gallery in downtown Syracuse – an event that’s been galvanizing cyberspace art world comment and even reached the pages of the New York Times via a free-lancer who took an over-night bus to Syracuse from Toronto – and she’s curator of the recent international show there, Come On: Desire Under the Female Gaze (See my interview with MontrĂ©al artist Jo-Anne Balcaen, one of the exhibitors, in the Syracuse City Eagle's 9/13 issue). Some Kind of Loving is an earlier incarnation of Suparak’s long-standing investigation of how women experience and portray sexuality in both still and moving images. This includes a web of related topics – yearning, abuse of intimate power, lust, voyeurism, memories and imagined encounters, parent and child relationships, pop culture figures and the fandom they inspire. In Some Kind of Loving you can see the early roots of Suparak’s eye for combinations and sequences that encompass subtle wit, guffaws, devastation and pure chutzpah in equal, heady measure.

Suparak gets things rolling with Karen Yasinsky’s sly pair of stop-motion videos, No Place Like Home, #1 and 2, featuring the ruby slippers and Dorothy’s lower half.
Jane Gang’s Finelines (1995) weds a full-tilt monologue on recovering one’s self from child abuse’s morass with abstract images directly scratched and painted on celluloid, proving that one of experimental film’s earliest techniques remains fresh and evocative. Jennifer Reeder’s 18-minute Lullaby looks back at her own 11-year-old self. Stephanie Barber’s Pornfilm combines graphic footage with seemingly incongruous tabloid-style voice-over about one TV personality’s marriage catastrophe.

Selecting Ahwesh’s last super-8 movie before she went on to 16-milimeter films like The Deadman (1990), Color of Love (1994), She Puppet (2001) and Certain Women (2005) makes an important early work available to generations of younger viewers. Martina’s Playhouse alternates footage of the performance artist Diane Torr and her precocious toddler with footage of another subject, Jennifer Montgomery, in Ahwesh’s apartment, as all interact with – and pointedly for – the filmmaker. Doing double duty by its placement in the collection – implicitly clarifying and summarizing the purpose of a project like Some Kind of Loving – Ahwesh’s film quotes the philosopher Lacan: “The object of human love is never an organ, but the person who has the organ.”

It’s useful to know how wide the pool of Suparak’s selection was. In the summer of 2000, she had just finished undergraduate studies in studio art at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute of Art and Design. At 22, she had already founded the Pratt Film Series, twice-weekly multi-media affairs of experimental and indie films and video, live music and guest artists. Over the three years she ran that series, Suparak programmed 91 different events that drew audiences from the metro area and attracted the attention of Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman, who saw Suparak’s work as a major example of New York City’s renaissance of experimental/avant-garde film and video underway in early 2000.

You’ll miss this world if you’re getting all your movies from Carousel Mall and Blockbuster. Fortunately there’s a locally-owned rental shop that has kept its VHS stock on the shelves and a local, historically important experimental scene that’s lately blossoming anew. You’ll also miss Some Kind of Loving if you assume it’s stored in the “adult” section. Suparak says she made this tape for teen-aged girls to watch in the privacy of their bedrooms. You might wish she’d been around a few years earlier.

This review appears in the 10/4/07 issue of the Syracuse City Eagle
weekly, where “Make it Snappy” is a regular column reviewing DVDs of recent films that didn’t open theatrically in Central New York & older films of enduring worth.