Some Film Museums I Have Known, produced by Sydney theatre company RhubarbRhubarb, is an effects laden journey into the stutter created in the cycle of referentiality.
Paula works in a film museum, endlessly introducing a video of the Lumière brothers explaining the history of film to us, the audience. There is a dovetail; while Paula explains to us her film script using a variety of props and projection equipment, as well as the novel use of portable spy cameras, Louis Lumière, the sickly identical twin of August, is disintegrating into the pixelated feedback of video. Their endless loop of information on the birth of cinema, what was supposed to be insurance towards their survival, falls apart. Paula, her existence posited on her film script, even if it’s only in her head, unravels also at the discovery of her film, already made, shot for shot, in her local video store.
The recounting of Paula’s film takes up the body of the work. To a receptive audience she recounts an absurd action film, filled with the clichés and outlandish twists that any self respecting Hollywood blockbuster is bound to have.
There was one point in the recounting of this film that I stopped and wondered why we were laughing. Were we laughing at the slack jawed Paula, at the deadpan recounting of her terrible film? Laughing in recognition of the clichés and tropes that she was reeling out as if for the first time? Sitting there you found yourself flickering, asking if Paula was sharing these clichés with you, a riff of recognition, a conversation in referentiality, or if she was evoking these tropes in an act of destruction, the actions named and shamed, no one daring to repeat them from that point onwards.
As we laughed at these tropes the framework of Paula’s existence slowly crumbled, reflected in the tenuous trackwork of the camera train, the increasingly distorted presence of Louis Lumière, the relegation of Paula’s film onto the video store shelf. You feel as if, since these cinematic crimes had been named, or at least referenced, that some sense of feeling would come out of Paula’s performance. That, when she discovers her entrapment in her own simulacrum there would be a sense of loss or tragedy or, well, that there would be an emotional endpoint to the piece. This is touched on by August Lumière, in his attempt to carry on alone inside the museum’s video loop, but Paula simply fades into the background of the innovative technology used. Not everything must have an emotional core, but there is a reason why these film references, boldly typed out on the program, were shared with the audience, why we as an audience knew what films Paula was referring to. Surely our absorption of these texts was not to have a back catalogue of conversation, surely all of these references mean something to us, surely we have some emotional connection to them. This side of the hyper-referentiality of the piece was left wanting, however.
Some Film Museums I Have Known is not about the emotional, connective content, rather the technological possibility of creating moving pictures. Story, as with technology, the scientific creation from a formula. It was a great piece to move forward from, but as a result it left me feeling a little cold about what it wanted to say.
Performance • May 19 – 22
ACMI, Studio 1, Australian Centre for Moving Image (ACMI), Federation Square, Melbourne
Duration: 1 hour
Price: $15 Full, $13 Concession