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Rachael Rakes Reviews Stephanie Barber’s First Feature, Daredevils

By Harriet Staff

Stephanie Barber

Poet, performer, and filmmaker Stephanie Barber has made her first feature-length film, Daredevils, which premiered recently at the New York Film Festival. Rachael Rakes has reviewed it for The Brooklyn Rail: The film is an “expanded space [that] becomes a repository for ideas for and about art, and for observations on interaction and interrelation,” and is structured in three parts (Susan Howe helps to voice!). As the movie’s website has it:

A portrait of risk and language, DAREDEVILS presents the experimental narrative of a writer as she interviews a well-known artist and feels the reverberations of their discussion throughout her day. Visually spare, still and verbose, the video considers of three formal handlings of language—a dialog, two monologues and a song.

Rakes writes:

“The artist” is a maker of fantastical installations: one in which large objects achieve anti-gravity through the use of magnets; a participatory human hologram film; and a smellodium, that is, a series of rooms with discrete smells that conjure narrative without aural or visual inputs to insert the crude force of individual memory. Listening, the writer exudes simultaneous excitement and discomfort, as the artist, resolved and at ease, talks of the heady inspirations for her pieces. In contrasting ways, the two women take up an equal amount of space in the scene. And the writer’s own ideas, which come out in choppy and uneven bursts, registering her emotional uncertainty, reign in the conversation, weighing it down with associations and grapplings.

What’s set up to seem like a brief opening scene, one that will act as a prelude to “action” in the film, slowly reveals itself as the main event. The easy cinematic corollary here is My Dinner with Andre: two people sliding into the comfort of a place of focused non-action, a location for the transmittal of intellect and experience, a space to lengthen the second before elation goes south, or goes somewhere else. But after a steady unraveling, the second ends. The artist has to go, allowing the details of exterior life that assault the writer’s psychic balance to come into relief.

Suddenly, the writer is on a treadmill at the gym. Two people are in the background playing racquetball. Their impertinence, intruding into the meditative space of this movie and playing gym games in their stupid sports outfits, foils the magical suspension created by the prior scene. As if to insist on continuing an isolation of feeling, the soundtrack on the writer’s headphones darkens in contrast with what is onscreen, pulling the action into a melancholy bubble. The monologue of a young female daredevil, who plainly explicates the zones of escape she creates for herself in her acts, takes control of the image. The daredevil’s detachment from her body and her openness to breaking it apart transfers to the writer on the treadmill. Watching this is like watching someone cut themself in order to trigger the release of neurotransmitters. Daredevils want to die, it’s often thought. But her acts are neither suicides nor distractions. They’re explorations of human physicality and temporality so extreme that they leave a trail of vertigo.

Looks like some new poem-videos of Barber’s are just up at InDigest. And watch the Daredevils trailer below!

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Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, November 7th, 2013 by Harriet Staff.