Film Scratches: Modernist Myths – Orphine (2014)
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.
Orphine is an intricate and complex 12-minute short on mythic themes by Sarahjane Swan and Roger Simian. The video is based on several different ancient goddess and creation myths, notably that of the Sumerian goddess Inanna. The film tells of the creation of the world, love, birth, death, and rebirth, as told through the voice of Orphine and her sister Death. A voiceover narration uses the typically repetitive, incantatory forms of storytelling of the oral traditions: “Three nights passed; I wept into the river. Three weeks passed; I wept into the river. Three months passed; I wept into the river.” At the same time, a different text appears on the screen, telling of similar themes in more surreal language: “Waiting in the room for my many shapes and expanding plastic nurse, undiluted by the fluid surrounding leaflets and gathering news.”
The imagery layers highly processed performance footage of Orphine and her sister over abstracted backgrounds, all in posterized colors, giving the video the overall look of a moving silkscreen print with several layers. Orphine is seen putting on and removing a series of veils. Her sister lets her long hair down from a bridge into a river. The hair is made of cloth with still more text written on it. Elemental images of fire and water are shaped into triangles and rectangles. Swan and Simian have a knack for using video effects to create expressive textures, and a strong graphic sense for creating striking compositions. The soundtrack mixes atmospheric electronics with a jazzy score. At one point the text is sung by a sultry soprano. The speaking voice is also altered electronically to become a part of the music.
Many modernist artists, from Cocteau to Martha Graham, have drawn on myth because of its primal, elemental power. Orphine consciously builds on this tradition. Swan and Simian are adept at blending the bold textures of their graphics with the lyricism of jazz and the primal mysteries of myth to create an evocative short which feels modern and ancient at the same time.