Saturday, February 7, 2015

PuSh 2015: Cinema Imaginaire

I write this an hour or so after having experienced Lotte van den Berg's site-based work Cinema Imaginaire, programmed alongside Dutch compatriot Dries Verhoeven's Fare Thee Well! under the PuSh Festival's thematic banner of "Dis/Appearing City." Unlike Verhoeven's work, van den Berg's piece involves participants walking around the city and performing specific time-based tasks. However, van den Berg shares with Verhoeven an interest in looking and perspective, albeit from a much more proximate vantage point. For me the work also compares with what I imagine Tino Seghal's participatory "performance experiences" to be like, minus the gallery or museum setting and the huge commission to the artist.


Having assembled, as per instructions, at the PuSh offices at 10:30 a.m., our group numbered approximately 20; this included several members of the Vancouver dance community--e.g. LGC rehearsal director Lara Barclay and 605 Collective's Josh Martin and Lisa Gelley--as well as Seattle choreographer Zoe Scofield, who along with her collaborator Juniper Shuey, opened the Festival in 2013 with A Crack in Everything. But I digress. Soon enough, we were directed to follow our guide to our starting location. That turned out to be the underground concourse of the Vancouver City Centre Canada Line stop. There our guide (whose name, unfortunately, escapes me) issued us each a timer, told us to set it to ten minutes, and then loosed us onto our respective movie sets, the hurly burly of activity about us our narrative canvas and any number of passers-by our potential protagonists. In short, in Cinema Imaginaire van den Berg is interested in emancipating us as spectators (in a way that has resonance with Jacques Rancière's famous recent theorization of this concept): with performances of all kinds taking place all around us, we decide what to watch and how to edit the footage into a private film loop of our own making.

Truth be told, however, this concept only became clear when the group reassembled after our allotted ten minutes and our guide starting asking us what type of movie we were making, and more specifically what particular genre it fell into. Having wandered rather aimlessly into the Pacific Centre Mall, and with my camera eyes roving rather restlessly hither and yon from one subject of interest to another, and from one store window to the next, I guess I was doing something more akin to location scouting or gathering images for a sequence of establishing shots rather than settling on a specific person or thing as my narrative focus. That said, in a heart-shaped display of "Things we love" taped in the window of Banana Republic (something also later cited by fellow participant--and former PuSh Board member--Jennifer Stanley) I had spied Channing Tatum's name. So when our guide asked me what my film was about I said I didn't know yet, but I did have a star.

For our second ten minutes we were given clearer instructions about honing in on the beginnings of a story, and so I descended to the subway and hopped the train to Waterfront station. I became obsessed with a pair of shoes a gentleman was wearing and in that instant decided that my film would be comprised almost exclusively of point of view shots. In hopping the next train back to City Centre I also decided that the image of the train doors opening and closing would allow for a killer matching cut in my film, one in which I could cross Sliding Doors with Kinky Boots: that is, a montage of our as yet unmasked Channing Tatum in men's loafers entering one train followed by a quick cut to the same character exiting a train in women's pumps.

With the conceit of Tatum as a cross-dresser firmly planted in my mind, for our next assignment--to linger over our shots and to play with close-ups or wide-angle zoom outs--I headed immediately back to the mall, hoping to find a lingerie store. I settled on Le Chateau and went up and down the aisles fingering the women's clothes, pretending I was Tatum shopping for a new fetching ensemble. In the next scene of my film I then tried on this ensemble, or at least approximated the effort by heading to Top Man in the basement of the Bay, grabbing a pair of pants from the rack and asking a clerk to direct me to a changing room. The conceit in this scene was to experiment with the presence of the camera by, for example, making it super obtrusive (e.g. getting in someone's face and staring at them intently, which, as Josh Martin later recounted, almost got him punched). On the other hand, we might want to play with the idea of a hidden camera. I opted for the latter, deciding that in my film we would cut from a POV shot of Tatum entering the changing room to try on women's clothes to a shot of him on a security camera, his back turned to us as he begins to disrobe. To make it feel authentic, I did get fully undressed (well, to my underwear at any rate), and the spectre of surveillance did seem pretty real.

For the last shot of our films, we brought our various storylines together. Having traipsed to the Robson street side of the Vancouver Art Gallery we were told to huddle under the awning covering the entrance and to stare out at the rain splattered plaza. We set our timers to fifteen minutes and let each of our camera-eyes roll; at whatever moment we felt ready we could individually enter into the frame, thereby magically crossing from our own into each other's films. I was the first to do so as the music that started to play, combined with the rain and my umbrella, screamed out the closing sequence of my film: Tatum (who began, remember, in the Step Up movies) recreating the classic "Singin' in the Rain" number from the movie of the same name, only this time as Debbie Reynolds rather than Gene Kelly.

After this series of slow dissolves into each other's films, we walked to the Vancouver Playhouse, entering through the stage door entrance at the back and gathering in the downstairs recital hall. There a camera was set up. But it didn't roll footage surreptitiously captured during our earlier wanders. Instead, our guide lifted the shutter and projected a single square of white light upon the wall, inviting each of us in turn to sit down in the chair positioned below the light, close our eyes, and recount to the group a scene from our movies. The scenes were alternately funny, moving, elliptical, and surreal, but never boring.

At the end, we celebrated twenty movie premieres with a glass of champagne, toasting the many private dramas that happen all around us in public.


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