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.
Promenade Mythanalytique: Logotype, Parole & Empreinte is a 23 minute lecture/performance/animation tour de force by French artist Paul Jacques Yves Guilbert. The piece is made as a response, 10 years later, to an influential teacher Guilbert studied with at an art school in Strasbourg, Pierre Mercier. Mercier has made a series of hybrid lecture/art pieces which he calls “Promenades,” and Guilbert’s piece is at once an homage to Mercier, an argument with him, and a way of jumping off from Mercier’s work into completely new territory.
The video is in the form of a lecture given by Guilbert, dressed in a checkerboard suit which is a cross between a harlequin costume and the pattern which represents transparency in Photoshop, but the footage of Guilbert is complicated from the beginning by being overlaid with schematic 3d models of the lecture hall. Guilbert also illustrates the lecture with video images which are projected onto a screen behind him, and this video layer soon becomes the whole image we are looking at.
While we see an animation of a Mickey Mouse figure circling inside of Marcel Duchamp’s famous readymade sculpture of a urinal, Guilbert begins poeticizing his speech with complicated puns, referring to his mistake of treating “the object as field” (l’objet comme champ) as the error which led him to place “Mickey in the field” (J’ai mis Mickey Duchamp). He also indulges in English/French puns, invoking Duchamp’s Normandy roots by chanting a local children’s rhyme “J’ai perdu ma clé” and mixing it with the English “I lost my key” rendered as “I lost Mickey.”
Overloading the ongoing verbal puns, Guilbert begins to pile on visual puns as well. In a complex and dazzling bit of 3d modeling and animation, we see a sequence from an early Disney cartoon in which Mickey approaches the door to a castle and tries to go in, but is stymied by a never-ending series of new doors. This is swiftly interpolated into footage from the beginning of Cukor’s Philadelphia Story, where Cary Grant opens a door and shoves Katherine Hepburn to the floor as she answers. This shoving action is repeated in an endless loop (set to a hip-hop beat), as Guilbert’s lecture spirals into a complicated shower of art theory, analysis, and more puns, contrasting the notion of a “door” to a “key” and the difference between the relationships which Disney and Duchamp had with their respective audiences. To be caught in a loop is to be trapped, and as the Grant figure grows Mickey-ears, the Hepburn figure becomes a mousetrap. The image is overlaid with multiple diagrams which purport to “explain” the relationship, but have the effect of overloading the discourse even further. This delirious state, in which ideas, images, text, music and spatial manipulations are all commenting on one another at the same time, produces a feeling of exhilarating abundance, as if one’s head is exploding with connections and insights.
In this dizzying discourse, the images morph from a piano made of mousetraps into a simulation of liquid pouring into the urinal, accompanied by an arcane and suggestive analysis of the difference between the role of the “pointer” and the “flusher.” Following a kind of internal logic (the kind which I confess eludes me), we are led from Duchamp’s experimental music to Mercier’s experimental piano playing, and finally to an extended discussion of Rodin’s iconic sculpture The Burghers of Calais, rendered in a rotating 3d model, with Mercier’s head replacing that of the Burghers. (I suppose he is slyly accusing Mercier of being bourgeois.)
The underlying argument of the piece contrasts Mercier’s notion of “the artist without artworks” to Guilbert’s idea of the “artist without an audience,” by which he seems to mean basically the artist who doesn’t cater to his audience, similar to the Romantic ideal of art which springs from an “inner necessity.” I’m a person who is normally highly allergic to art theory, analysis, and theoretical jargon of all types, and it generally makes my brain go to sleep, and so I didn’t even attempt, while watching this piece, to carefully follow and pull apart the details of the discussion. But even for viewers who are more naturally drawn to theory, the structure of the work discourages a sober, careful and intellectual viewing, as the sheer piling up of music, words and images soon makes it impossible to pull ideas apart in a linear way. Promenade Mythanalytique is more of an ecstatic, crazy dance of ideas, rather than a stroll, a deliberate fusion of sensory input that celebrates the brain’s ability to interconnect ideas and images at breakneck, runaway speed. If a pun is a verbal key which opens a poetic doorway by connecting seemingly unrelated words, than Guilbert has discovered a way to use computer animation to allow your eyes, ears, and mind to puntificate all at the same time, turning the dryness of an art lecture into a juicy flow which spills out and overflows the bowl.
The film will screen at the Horn Festival in Jerusalem on 21 July.