Los Angeles

Michele O'Marah

Goldman-Tevis Gallery

Two questions: (1) Why are most films shown in the gallery or museum context so expensive and so pukoid? (2) In the shadow of the Hollywood sign, what is the difference between an appropriation and a remake, given that the remake is an industry standard, for better (Douglas Sirk's daunting Imitation of Life) or worse (Jim McBride's anemic Breathless), producing indifference (Steven Soderbergh's empty Ocean's 11) or grandiose inanity (Cameron Crowe's chiasmatic Vanilla Sky)? Rechanneling both trends, Michele O'Marah's feature-length video Valley Girl captures and intensifies the heart and soul of Martha Coolidge's original 1983 crossover hit that launched Nicholas Cage, starred Deborah Foreman, and gave the always fascinating Elizabeth Dailey a nice turn as the sad, slightly slutty Loryn. Casting friends and providing them with savvy costuming, satisfying yet no-frills props, and punk–riot grrrl chutzpah, O'Marah has created a guerrilla tour de force and a heady meditation on the simple act of doing something again.

If Coolidge is the mother muse for this project, then Jack Smith and Ed Wood provide avuncular inspiration and methodology—what might be called Valley Girl's antinatural naturalism. To mistake O'Marah's mode as lazy, cynical, or “camp,” you'd have to ignore her exuberant attention to the material and to the specificity of her own vision. Unlike Laura Cottingham's art-world driven Anita Pallenberg Story, 1999, which, with its strident nostalgia, never surpassed karaoke redux, Valley Girl doesn't exist only to be cool. The artist created something much more prepossessing than a critique of Hollywood by, loopy as it might sound, believing in what she believes: that reshooting, with almost no budget, a sweet oddball pro-girl Hollywood indie film might be a way to make art.

Valley Girl isn't a shot-by-shot doubling of the original (unlike Gus Van Sant's Psycho, 1998), but neither is it simply “inspired by” or “based on” Coolidge's movie. Take the credits. Both films open with the Hollywood sign and radio announcers, but where Coolidge cuts to her lead shopping with friends, O'Marah shows four girls dancing to Bonnie Hayes and the Wild Combo's “Girls Like Me”—covered in an arrangement by the resourceful and talented Mr. Jones of Feather Early Music—in a makeshift bubblegum-pink room, while a little television hisses static. It's a clue about the attitude behind this samizdat venture: All it takes to make a movie is wood, cardboard, and paint, some friends, smarts, persistence, and a video camera. (Feather Early Music's CD of the sound track was available in the gallery, along with stills and such props as a pathetic rainbow-cloud wall decoration.) O'Marah so ingested and embodied the original that she accomplished something more vital than anything tony remake meisters du jour like (to name the art-world and Hollywood antipodes) Douglas Gordon and Steven Soderbergh have attempted. Her film is at once entertainment, a document of a time period and locale, a DIY manifesto, a feminist commentary with acute style, and a meditation on continuity. Oh yeah, and it's art, I am so sure.

In the moviemaking sense, O'Marah's film has absolutely no continuity. Julie's hairstyle changes abruptly; costumes transform deliriously. Metaphorically, it's hard to know what still matters aesthetically in our world during one of its slightly more amok moments: What might provide continuity? Community might. And when your friends can portray so much life, and give so much (when you ask if you can make a picture with them), one kind of continuity that is so humorously not there reminds you of another kind that is. If Coolidge commented on the discontinuity between the free-lovin' ‘60s and the commodity-lovin’ '80s, O'Marah's disregard for technical continuities shows that it's possible to channel the woolly, experimental energy of the '6os through the Day-Glo material glamour of the '80s (and even to demonstrate how one moment led to the other), all the while top-billing the people in your life as the stars they often are.

Bruce Hainley