Literature

Endless Dreams and Water Between is a feature film with four fictitious characters sustaining an epistolary exchange in which their “planetary thought” is woven with the physical locations they inhabit, visual and aural characters in themselves: the island of Manhattan, the island of Majorca, in Spain, and the islands and peninsula that form the San Francisco Bay Area. The characters’ reflections and dreams enact what could be described as “an archipelagic mind,” linking worlds, time, and space.

"Like any other great city, this one offered its populace more than merely every evening freedom. It offered a variety of slaveries to which the freedom might be put. This was necessary, Goliath knew, because he who has given away his soul between nine and five cannot usually bear to face it (or does not know where to find it) between five and nine. The city offered distractions, glorious dreams.

Every Wandering Cloud is the first installment in a series of experimental videos inspired by the writings of Oscar Wilde. Interweaving text from Wilde's "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" with hand-drawn animation derived from Eadweard Muybridge's Human and Animal Location, Every Wandering Cloud is a meditation on themes of freedom and imprisonment. The video juxtaposes an eclectic array of archival and contemporary imagery, including documentary footage and original Super-8 and digital video.

In Excerpts from Behold Goliath, Tom Kalin presents four experimental short films inspired by American writer Alfred Chester (1928-71), who in 1964 published a collection of short stories of the same name. Each of Kalin's films, Some Desperate Crime on My Head (2003), The Robots of Sodom (2002), Every Evening Freedom (2002), and Salad Days (2004), devotedly exploits Chester's words with computer voice-synthesizers, and juxtaposes them with music, film and hand-drawn images.

Excess, 2009

A rumination via handwritten index cards and an assortment of images recalling histories and ambitions of varied film productions.

A detective is hired to find the original copy of a lost ancient book. The book recounts the tale of a plague. A form of radiation, unknown at the present time, activates a virus. The virus affects the sexual and fear centers in the brain and nervous system; fear is converted into sexual frenzies which are reconverted back into fear, the feedback leading in many cases to a fatal conclusion.

“Where the robots can eat food, they eat chemicals instead—as one would expect. Where they can live and act, they sit in dark rooms and watch others do it for them. Where they can have faith, they mistrust the honest. Where they can have suspicions, they believe the treacherous. Where they can suffer, they prefer to be tranquil. Where they can laugh, they snicker. Where they can praise, they scorn. Where they can scorn, they worship. Where they can do almost anything but love, they do nearly nothing but hate. And where they can hate, they imagine that they love.”

Drawing from Flaubert's The Temptation of Saint Anthony, his letters, travel journals, and biography, this video layers fantasy, sexual obsession, morbidity, Romanticism, and boredom alongside the ghostliness of empty hotel rooms, aural atmosphere, and an homage to surrealist and horror films.

Co-produced by the Wooster Group, and featuring Ron Vawter.

This installation is based on the re-enactment of Franz Kafka’s allegory "Before the Law", interpreted live over a telephone line by Katharine Gun. Gun was a translator (specializing in Chinese to English translations), working with the British secret service, who chose to leak information compromising the U.S. and U.K. governments in their push for a U.N. resolution for the invasion of Iraq. Gun disclosed their plans to illegally wiretap the delegations of the Security Council holding the balance of power at the U.N.  She was acquitted when it became clear to the government of the U.K.

“Ah! It is so easy to convert others. It is so difficult to convert oneself.”

—Oscar Wilde, “The Critic as Artist” in The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde (New York: Harper Collins, 1989)

This title is also available on Third Known Nest by Tom Kalin.

An erotic/mystical misadventure in which the allure of the religious path is strewn with earthly temptations. Struggling with a bogus Zen koan involving flowers in keyholes and jumping through windows, the protagonist will end up entering, by the conclusion, the realm of subatomic particles, thereby achieving transcendence-of-a-sort. On the soundtrack, operatic quotations comment ironically (and sometimes sincerely) on the visual proceedings.

This video develops from a real event that took place during a theater seminar in the masters degree program at the University of Antioquia in Medellín, Columbia.  The seminar occurred during one of the university's worst periods of violence.  Two students in charge of a presentation on the life and work of French author Jean Genet decided to play a hoax on their fellow students - a hoax that involved an armed kidnapping.  Their idea was to perform the ethos of Genet's work rather than to represent it in a conventional way.

“I hung back, held fire, danced and lied. I was not going to come crawling out of my ruined house, all bloody, no, baby, sing no sad songs for me.”

—James Baldwin, “The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy,” Esquire (May 1961)

This title is also available on Third Known Nest by Tom Kalin.

Juxtaposing feminist readings of medical tracts, narratives of patient treatment and archival footage, I Need Your Full Cooperation reveals the evolution of women’s relationship to modern medicine. The video dramatizes Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “rest cure”, adapting her 1892 story "The Yellow Wallpaper", and includes critical commentary by activist/writer Barbara Ehrenreich and historian Carroll Smith-Rosenberg.

A dark wave of incest and magic burns across the tropics, forging a knotted trail into the black hole. Taking its title from the V.C. Andrews novel (a sequel to Flowers In The Attic), and weaving together texts from Shirley Jackson, William S. Burroughs, and Stevie Nicks, the film constructs a collaged narrative of three star-crossed siblings searching for one another across the unstable landscapes of their respective exiles.

— Michael Robinson

A queer rewriting of the events surrounding the 1968 National Democratic Convention in Chicago from the point of view of French writer Jean Genet. Along the way Genet will meet, amongst others, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, the Yippies, the Black Panther Party and the Chicago police force... Ultimately, the video is about the difficulty of aligning political and sexual desires.

Joe, 2018

A portrait of New York author Joe Westmoreland. Joe is reading from his short story Sweet Baby Joe. This video was shot in 2014 in Joe's Chelsea loft, and the reading was recorded in 2016. 

An extremely rare documentation of a private performance of John Cage, one of the leading avant-garde composers of the 20th century, who created "Writing for the Fifth Time through Finnegan's Wake" using I-Ching chance operation: Chinese fortune telling.  Here Cage performs in front of a video camera operated by Takahiko iimura, while he transforms the text of a modern literature classic by James Joyce into Cagian music in three ways: reading, singing and whispering.

In the second part of the Classics Exposed series, a neurotic scholar (Gibbons) leads a "buggy" ride tour through historic Charleston where, according to the professor, Franz Kafka wrote The Metamorphosis after taking a wrong turn on his way to Hollywood. Live-action with six-legged animation.

This title is also available on Emily Breer: Classics Exposed.

Laurie, 1998

Laurie was inspired by Laurie Weeks’ uncanny ability to simultaneously embody her characters and write them from a clear distance. The text in question is just a few paragraphs from a draft of the novel Zipper Mouth, more than ten years in the making, and published by the Feminist Press.

Letter to a missing woman, based partly on memories of someone who has been a political fugitive since 1983, combines documentary "evidence" and fiction in an imaginative reconstruction of public documents and private history. This is a quiet, obsessive piece addressing the human costs and repercussions of re-inventing oneself – one’s body, memories, and future – as a living piece of propaganda. The writer/narrator of this "crazy letter" is an unreliable one, a composite of half-truths, paranoid digressions, and feelings of loss.

A tour of literary scraps that litter the highway of lost souls in search of publications to be publicized. The crush of printed pulp as it smears its way through the various media that feed off its symbols and excesses. The lust of writers made pure by the whiteness of the sheets they imprint with the shadow markings of their Smith-Corona contraption as it keeps pounding late into the night.

Based upon the novel Le Desert Mauve by Quebeçoise author Nicole Brossard, Mauve Desert, a CD-ROM road movie, was five years in the making. Shot on film and video, framed by original graphics and creative programming structures, and performed in three languages, Mauve Desert finds its voice in the driver's seat (of a computer). Mélanie is a fifteen year-old girl who steals her mother’s Meteor every chance she gets and drives away from her mother’s lover Lorna and toward the dawn.

Based on a novel by Rita Mae Brown, Me and Rubyfruit chronicles the enchantment of teenage lesbian love against a backdrop of pornographic images and phone sex ads. Benning portrays the innocence of female romance and the taboo prospect of female marriage.

This title is also available on Sadie Benning Videoworks: Volume 1.

Psychologically disturbed Professor Herville (Joe Gibbons) analyzes the literary classic Moby Dick. He gives a tour of the Herman Melville Museum and makes much ado about the book’s Oedipial themes. Breer mixes in footage of the Hollywood adaptation starring Gregory Peck and her own irrepressible animation.

This title is also available on Emily Breer: Classics Exposed.