Los Angeles

Tamara Rosenblum, Paraíso, 2021. Installation view. Photo: Monica Orozco.

Tamara Rosenblum, Paraíso, 2021. Installation view. Photo: Monica Orozco.

Tamara Rosenblum

Daddies are out. Directors are in.

Midway through Tamara Rosenblum’s Paraíso, 2021, a four-channel video installation that played on a loop in an upstairs gallery of the Vincent Price Art Museum, a silver-haired man in a scarecrow costume has pinned himself to a tree. The wind picks up the tufts of straw sticking out of his loose shirt and pointy hat, whipping them into his face. The humor addresses that nebulous space between the actor and the vessel of his archetype, begging the question, Do scarecrows get itchy? He pulls strands of straw out of his eyes as the artist’s voice comes in from behind the camera: “Move sideways now, Daddy!”

As the film progresses, Rosenblum continues to direct her father, Chilean actor and director Gregorio Rosenblum, against homemade sets made with markers and paper, through a range of hoary character types, including those of cowboy, clown, old-timey ship captain, an Italian widow, and other more subtle, inscrutable personae. At one point, a pajamaed Gregorio sits in his bedroom while his daughter gives him a manicure. He reminisces about his days as a younger actor. “All the gays and the public tried to conquer me,” he says, twitching a fan with a taut queenliness. The vignette corresponds to a character listed in the show’s wall text as “aging actor.” The screens show varied close ups of his handsome lined face, then cut to a fuzzy television clip of the soap opera One Life to Live (1968–2012), starring a clearly younger Gregorio. Identity is being fudged, but the film executes this concept with a light heart. In lieu of the emotional manipulations endemic to a kind of fetishy, pop-cultural idea of the actor-director dynamic, we have two disciplined artists at play—dropping masks, breaking fourth walls, and self-reflexively commenting on the situation at hand. Tamara and Gregorio switch seamlessly between their various roles—from father/director to actor/director to daughter/actor and back again—in tumbling succession. It takes the wind out of a notion of gravitas I had once naively associated with acting, namely, that it has to hurt.

Gregorio sits behind a ship’s wheel in a blow-up kiddie pool. Tamara asks her father what ocean they are crossing. “Uh . . . the Pacific?” he responds. “I trust my instrument,” he says of his body without irony, just before Tamara throws a giant fish at him. At one point, Gregorio takes a full minute to pull back a black curtain and face the camera. During these long stretches of stillness, he is fascinating to watch, the solidity of his instrument keeping everything just this side of camp. Even when he’s weeping in drag, we are touched.

I used to think that in the absence of a father, a director justifies the abdication of control over one’s inner life. When the eponymous heroine of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s television series Fleabag (2016–19) breaks down in a confessional booth, wailing to the “hot priest”—an absent daddy type in his own way—her schizo plea for a guiding authority figure mirrors the decision fatigue that runs like a chord through these self-consciously performative times. “I want someone to tell me what to eat, what to like, what to hate, what to rage about!” she cries. A director does that, I thought. I became an actor because I used to fantasize about relinquishing control. Turned out I just needed someone to play with.

In the final vignette, Gregorio the clown pretends to ice-fish in front of a snowy log cabin. His hunched posture, cracking white makeup, and dingy rainbow duds convey all the visual codes of pitifulness. After a tussle with the phantom weight at the end of his pole, he pulls up a message in a bottle and reads it aloud: “Don’t look for us; we already found paradise.” He repeats the phrase, trying out different tones and stresses, performing a solo twist on Sanford Meisner’s repetition exercise. The words edge closer to semantic satiation, to the point where reiterating a word or phrase causes it to temporarily lose all meaning for the listener, dissolving into pure sound. The film cuts to black before it arrives.