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Film Scratches: Queen of the Nile Digest – Cleopatra Burst (2016)

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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.

Cleopatra Burst is a 4 and a half minute found footage work by Dina Yanni with a very straightforward structure. Eleven commercial “Cleopatra movies” are shown in their entirety, radically sped up so that all eleven of them fit within the 4 and a half minutes. These super-fast movies are set to the techno song Freak, which accentuates the hyped-up speed. Most of these films are of the classic sword-and-sandal genre, but they include a soft porn film and the Blaxploitation film Cleopatra Jones.

Yanni organizes the films so that the perceived speed keeps accelerating, but apart from that the contents of the film are entirely dictated by its formal, conceptual structure rather than by any artistic considerations. As such, we might expect it to be an abstract structuralist film, but neither the concept nor the structure is inherently interesting.

Is the film meant as an examination of Hollywood’s use of Cleopatra imagery, and its place in our culture? Because Yanni has not made artistic choices about which imagery to emphasize and in what order we see it, it is impossible to pick up much from watching the endless procession of single frames. We can see that Hollywood films are not historically accurate, that they are visually lavish yet in poor taste, that the spectacle of a powerful female head of state is viewed as an erotic fantasy as long as it remains carefully exoticised. None of these insights are revelations.

CleopatraBurstSideLike many conceptually driven artists, Yanni substitutes a formalized structure and an idea for any artistic choices or discernment. But this structure does not yield any particular insights into her purported area of interest.

Like many contemporary filmmakers working in a mashup or re-mix style, Yanni uses easily available imagery made by other artists, and manipulates it with easily available digital tools. She avoids the effort of thinking, feeling, or examining her own personal response to Cleopatra iconography, despite the fact that her old website told us she enjoys dressing as Cleopatra. (She has now revised her bio.) One has only to think of the early 1960s films of Jack Smith or the Kuchar brothers to remember just the sort of complex, nuanced, and multi-layered films which can come out of an artist’s personal, creative response to the spectacle of Hollywood B movies. If only Yanni had put on her Cleopatra drag and turned on a camera, imagine what she could have given us.

David Finkelstein is a filmmaker, musician, and critic. For more information on Film Scratches, or to submit an experimental film for review, contact lakeivan@earthlink.net.

Read also:

Moving Between the Worlds: Trapped Between Frames (2014)

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