Film Scratches: Escape into Hell – M. Woods’ A Day in a Place (2012)
Film Scratches focuses on the world of experimental and avant-garde film, especially as practiced by individual artists. It features a mixture of reviews, interviews, and essays.
A Review by David Finkelstein.
“I don’t know why I do it. I just go away,” announces a young woman in a short blue dress and red heels (the phenomenal Rachel Music), in A Day In a Place, a remarkable 7-minute scene by filmmaker M. Woods which is an excerpt from a work-in-progress feature film called The Pleasure Principle. “I’m not here anymore; I’m in hell.” She is in space which is a cross between a playpen and a torture chamber: red velvet, plush toys, a dressing table. The dark silhouette of a figure watches her every move from the foreground of the image, and the torture she is going through seems to be induced by the agony of the unrelenting scrutiny of this person. And then, suddenly, it happens: you can actually see her go somewhere else in side of herself, escape into an alternate inner reality. The mysterious person in the foreground moves into the frame, to strangle and then cannibalize her. Another figure wearing a short red dress and an enormous Mickey Mouse head emerges and preens on the sofa.
This is the entire action of the powerful and disturbing scene. Ms. Music’s performance evokes the experience of a person trapped in an intolerable reality, particular a reality of abuse, who detaches from the external world in order to save herself, a tactic that is medically known as dissociation. (Woods refers to his group of artistic associates at the Dissociative Collective.) Is the Mickey Mouse figure a benign childhood memory, come to rescue her? Is the other figure her abuser? Or perhaps one of those malevolent spirits which roam the cosmos, preying on weak humans who stray into the astral realms?
This short scene shows that Woods has a deep knowledge of these kinds of alternative mental experiences, and the artistic chops to create scenarios and montages which express what might seem to be inexpressible. Another short excerpt from The Pleasure Principle, called I Gotta Feeling, explicitly links this kind of dissociative experience to drug use, showing it is not limited to those who are labeled “mentally ill.” A frantic video collage of explosions, protests, car crashes, and other violent craziness makes an explicit connection between the kind of break from reality which occurs in people’s private playpens and in the world at large. Taken by themselves, these two short scenes create powerful mini-operas of dissociation. If they are any indication of the larger film Woods is working on, we are in for a brilliant examination of why many of us occasionally would prefer to put ourselves into a hell of our own making, in order to escape one which is out of our control.