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.
La Mesa, a ten minute experimental animation by Adrian Garcia Gomez, is a haunting cinematic poem, a beautifully constructed black and white revery. Gomez derives the film’s images from the fragmented stories of a Jalisco boyhood which he heard from his father. The film subtly blends together footage of the old family home, now a ruin, with fragments from classic old Mexican films and American Westerns. This footage is overlaid with Gomez’ elegant line drawing animations, depicting his father’s childhood, as well as romantic scenes from old movies which are re-imagined as queer liaisons between two men.
Gomez moves deftly between media, freely mixing traditional cel animation and hand-processed film with video footage which has been distressed both with digital datamoshing and a sprinkling of analog video glitches. This technical finesse is not merely an exercise; it becomes an expressive tool, conveying a sense of overlapping memories, family lore, movie romances, and erotic fantasies, to create an inner world where many levels of reality intersect. Immigrant families usually hold images of “the old country” in their memories, but for second generation immigrants, like Gomez, who grew up in California, their version of the old country resides almost entirely in the imagination, even if they later visit their parent’s ancestral village. La Mesa is a film embodiment of this imaginary place.
The soundtrack is from a mix of sources as well, a collage of ambient sounds, such as windshield wipers and the lowing of cows, with fragments of movie music, or, sometimes, simply the ambient noise from the optical soundtracks of old movies. Gomez gives this sound collage great power by tying the sounds directly to the editing rhythm, creating waves of ebbing and flowing excitement.
The film moves through several episodes, based on his father’s stories, as when a violent thunderstorm approaches and the animated figure of the young boy seems to climb into the attic, leaving his mother and grandmother to wonder where he has gone. (Beautifully, the rungs of the ladder are rendered as holes in the animated image.) Later, when the sun has come out, the boy finds a huge leaf, and as his animated figure waves it back and forth we hear a great whoosh of sound, as the hand-drawn leaf blocks and reveals the blinding sunlight in the live action footage behind.
These episodes don’t tell a clear story, but they give a flavor of fragmentary memories and emotional textures. In one magical sequence, we see nighttime footage, with distant flashes of lightning, while hearing a loud chorus of insects. This scene is overlaid with an animation, now drawn in glowing white lines on the dark background, in which the romantic cowboy hero tenderly asks his lover “why are you crying?”
By visually rewriting classic romantic movies with a queer storyline, Gomez is expressing the kind of mental re-editing that all gay viewers engage in, when we watch old movies. As a gay man, I personally find this freedom to re-imagine classic films with gay protagonists to be liberating and creative. Even though I now live in a world where I have easy access to an enormous number of gay romance movies, most of them are pretty bad. If you are in the mood to really swoon out in a blissful puddle of movie romance, there is nothing like the films from the 30s, 40s or 50s.
Gomez is doing something more here than simply indulging in romantic daydreams. He is using his creative power, as an artist with highly sophisticated skills, to challenge the prevailing images of masculinity. By inserting his own gay narrative into his father’s memories along with classic Mexican films, he is reclaiming his rightful place within personal and cultural history. It’s a stunning use of film alchemy to create a magical transformation, but its power derives entirely from Gomez’ poetic sensibility, his sensitivity to the lonely quality of a bird sitting on a wire, the sound of a horse’s whinny, or the tenderness of watching one man wash another’s feet. It’s nuanced moments such as these that can project a world where macho cowboys finally feel safe enough to come down off of their horses, and look into the eyes of a friend.