After Images

04.12.11

Luo Li, Rivers and My Father, 2010, still from a black-and-white video, 75 minutes.


WHEN A CONTEMPORARY MUSICAL ACT is brought in to create and perform a new score for a silent film classic, the result is typically tasteful and restrained. But as one might surmise from the band’s moniker, Fucked Up doesn’t exactly do restraint. Enlisted by the Images Festival—Toronto’s lively annual survey of experimental film, video, installation, and media art—to provide new music for a screening of Tod Browning’s film West of Zanzibar (1928) on the festival’s closing night, the local hardcore favorites handled the assignment with all the delicacy of a UFC cage match.

Fucked Up expanded on the most epic moments on their 2009 album The Chemistry of Common Life, deploying an arsenal of razor-sharp guitar riffage and thunderous drum solos to accentuate and intensify the lurid lunacy of Browning’s curio, a compelling if egregiously racist jungle melodrama by the director of Dracula and Freaks. While many films of its vintage might have been overpowered by such a visceral display of power, West of Zanzibar was sufficiently feisty to match the band blow for blow.

In their rejection of timid tactics, Fucked Up’s efforts were very much in line with the playfully subversive energies present throughout the festival. That energy was certainly there in the opening-night film. Rivers and My Father, Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Luo Li’s impressive sophomore feature, freely mixes fiction and documentary elements as Luo juxtaposes reenacted scenes from his father’s boyhood in rural China with footage of his family in the present day. But after an hour of hushed, ambiguous, and lyrical black-and-white vignettes, Luo’s work takes a surprising turn. Explaining via on-screen text that he sent the film we’ve just watched to his father, the director then presents Luo Sr.’s well-meaning comments on how it might be improved. The result is an ingenious sort of autocritique, one that immediately deflates any air of pretension while adding texture to the film’s key themes of family, landscape, and memory.

Two events by visiting Brooklynites in the festival’s Live Images program proved to be similarly unpredictable. The Fortunetellers, a performative lecture by Ellie Ga based on her experiences during a scientific expedition in the Arctic Ocean in the winter of 2007–2008, used a variety of means—photo transparencies presented via overhead projector, digital video collected during her very dark days on the Tara, cryptic slides of wristwatch ads, and live narration by Ga—to create a wry and touching portrait of a temporary community at the end of the world. Andrew Lampert, an archivist at the Anthology Film Archives and an artist in his own right, was also in Toronto to present three recent films that reflected his new interest in “contracted cinema,” a cheeky term that points to his shift away from the multiprojector works he had previously favored. In his introductory remarks, he also admitted that he risked the rancor of fringe-film purists by using video to preserve and present works originally shot on Super 8. But the results—including two hilarious films in which actress Caroline Golum channels the woeful spirit of one of Lampert’s Siberian ancestors—suggest that the director’s move to narrow his scope has also revitalized his work.

Jason Anderson

The twenty-fourth edition of Toronto’s Images Festival ran through April 9, 2011. The festival’s “Off-Screen” program continues through April at participating galleries and venues.