Saturday, January 7, 2017

Manifesto- The installation at the Park Avenue Armory

I have no idea how to explain MANIFESTO. It is an art film installation that is finishing up a run at the Park Avenue Armory (it plays to midnight tonight and is open tomorrow which is it's last day)  and is being cut together in a linear fashion to play in theaters after it world premieres at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

If I were to attempt a literal explanation I might say:

Cate Blanchett stars in 13 films 12 running just over ten minutes and one just under five. Each film is made up of various manifestos and are performed as if they are the dialog for a film. All the films run on loops and at a certain moment in each the films all come together to create a beautiful harmonic resonance that echoes through the space.

The trouble is that doesn't do the installation justice. It doesn't explain how the sound bouncing around the space effects what you are seeing in anyone place. It doesn't explain the result of seeing pieces out of the corner of your eyes or how looking back at one piece after you've seen the next changes things. You get no sense of being in the space of interacting with the other people - of discussing it with friends or how what you over hear of other people's conversations affect your thoughts. Seeing each piece straight through once and in pieces 13 more times plays with your mind and makes you think about the notion of art, of presentation and how we think about everything.

To be honest I don’t know if MANIFESTO means anything. Certainly the mashing together of all of the manifestos (some 50 in all many of them conflicting with others) alters what each one is saying. If you want all of the pieces together and tried to deduce what it means it would be gibberish because of the conflicting ideas.

You also have to take into account Blanchett’s stellar performances. Playing 13 roles and doing the voice over in the introduction her reading of the texts in various guises turn things on their head. Humor, which many people refused to laugh at, was injected into the proceedings just by her performances. From her wide eyed crazed homeless man in the first, to her tear filled eulogy about wanting to shit colors in a funeral piece on Dada, to the spot on dismantling of TV news, or to her wicked commentary to a class of ten year olds on Dogma 95 there are times when you can’t help but laugh out loud. (I won’t even mention the big dance number that looks like Ridley Scott’s PROMETHEUS sequel might be if it were a musical (thank you Hubert)

The funny thing is that the films are really perfect little films. Yes they work together to form something greater but all of them are about something, all reflect some part of life-the words just happen to be largely position statements. It’s a stunning achievement because in a weird way the shorts could stand alone. I mean watch how the camera work in the family dinner, the puppet artist, the news report or the garbage woman piece play as real films. Just the motion of the characters in the frames and the odd real world bit of dialog give us volumes of information.

But they aren’t just stand alones- and they tie together as the films all sync up every ten minutes to create a magical sing song moment. Its starts in the newscast and travels around the room until all are joined up. The voices then fall away. At first is seems like a mistake but it’s not. Once you get to the second piece you realize that it is intentional. Don’t ask me what it means but the effect was stunning. Hubert Vigilla and I began to try and figure it out as we traveled around. We never worked it out, other than it being a reminder that all the pieces are related but at the same time we both knew that not having in play out in the linear version of MANIFESTO will make it considerably less.

As I said I don’t know what it means or what I’m supposed to get out of it, but frankly the two plus hours traveling around the Park Avenue Armory seeing it all was one of the coolest ways to see a film. It was a glorious way to begin a film year.

I think the best thing that I can say about the installation and films is that it is a perfect explanation of Peter Greenaway’s thought that cinema as we know it is dead. Here is a film that cannot exist as a conventional film but which when screened as intended is a powerful kick ass experience that moves both the head and the heart the way that cinema or film is supposed to.

Should the installation version of MANIFESTO play near you- run, don’t walk to see it…just bring comfortable shoes because it can be a lot of standing

For information on the final two days at the Park Avenue Armory go here.

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