In the House on the Street

Janine Marchessault

This program of films and videos explores spaces of living in and traversing urban and rural settings. Divided between two interdependent topographies, the street and the house, each work is a creative engagement with the relation between objects, places and people that built environments call forth. The ephemeral nature of everyday life, absent-minded encounters in the street, the boundary that divides public and private, action and emotion, and finally, the temporal sedimentations that support the places where people live together are all explored. Taken together, the works in this program create a tapestry of stories that helps us recognize the central importance of home and belonging in an age of increasing mobility and homelessness. The program argues that we cannot comprehend home without homelessness; we cannot decipher the house without the street on which it is built.

In the House on the Street does not propose a clear gender division between the street and the house, with films about the street ranging from the relatively unknown gem Astor Place by Eve Heller to Philip Hoffman’s travel narrative Somewhere Between Jalostotitlan and Encarnacion. Likewise, the house movies cross gender lines with Rhapsody on a Theme from House Movie by Lorne Marin to the new psychodrama, Stalker by Cara Morton. But while gender is not used as a simple dividing line between public and private or street and house, gender differentiates and determines modalities of experience: fear (of the empty street at night or the dark closet), pleasure (and looking), desire and fantasy (for belonging and home) to name a few of the emotions that are conjured by social spaces.

Since the nineteenth century, the street has been the symbolic space for the heterogeneity, anonymity and freedom that the city portends. In Astor Place, Heller records the quotidian gestures of pedestrians at a busy intersection in New York City. With the camera hidden behind a mirror, passers-by glance at themselves as their performances of self in a flow of physicalities are recorded.

If this first film introduces us to anonymous yet differentiated public space, Cara Morton’s ironic thriller Stalker brings us inside a house of horrors where the inhabitant (Julia Roberts) is literally stalked by the filmmaker. Morton has cleaved herself into the Hollywood movie, Sleeping with the Enemy, by recreating several of the house’s interiors along with the most frightening scenes of a psychotic husband who stalks his wife by rearranging kitchen cupboards. By taking up the position of Roberts’ husband, Morton not only reappropriates the ‘chick flick’ from Hollywood, but also defies the boundaries of the film frame by entering into it.

It is precisely this kind of personalizing that we find in the autobiographical recollections on houses found in Confessions of a Compulsive Anarchist, a new work by Mary Daniels and Rick Hancox’s House Movie. In Confessions, Daniels sifts through home movies for clues to understand her mother’s home economies and tragic illness. Like a detective, Daniels seeks to decipher the logic behind her mother’s filing systems; a final discovery in the sewing room helps her recollect the home she grew up in. Hancox’s film, a melancholic and touching record of the end of a relationship, documents the connection between emotion and home, and the failure of his rented abode to become anything more than painful. Lorne Marin’s film Rhapsody on a Theme from House Movie is a poetic response to Hancox’s film, examining the phenomenology of home, the way the architectural structure of the house itself becomes history across the seasons, weather systems and over time. Unlike Hancox’s film, the house in this instance is a stable entity that exudes permanence in the fluctuating circumstances of everyday life. Barbara Sternberg’s beautifully textured Transitions explores the psychic architecture of a woman’s place. How do the spaces in which we dwell both express our desires and control them? A woman lies half way between sleep and wakefulness, not quite dreaming, not quite conscious in a liminality that is paralyzing. Almost directly opposite Marin’s interpretation of place as visual permanence, Transitions presents a veritable acoustic space as voices, memories and sounds from the outside encase a woman’s body and consciousness.

Somewhere Between Jalostotitlan and Encarnacion by Philip Hoffman takes us back out to the street as Hoffman builds a film around not filming a young boy run over by a truck and lying dead on a street corner somewhere between Jalostotitlan and Encarnacion. The death at the centre of the film is conveyed through text in this record of travels between Mexico and Toronto. The film engages with the things, events, architectures and emotions that carve out a place and give it a redemptive quality. Structured around three events — a horn band in Guadalajara, a Catholic procession in Toronto, traffic in Colorado — the film is a haiku of sorts, focusing on the life after death. Eulogy by Ryan Feldman engages with the same issues of street, death and cinematic ontology, only in this case the issue explored is not the decision of whether to film, but the fact of our obliviousness to death. Eulogy draws our attention to the invisibility of homeless people inside large urban environments and the ethics that call for seeing.

This is the very political framework and context for the next film in the program, by Kika Thorne and Adrian Blackwell, which concerns the anti-amalgamation and anti-globalization actions of the February Group Toronto. Mattress City documents the actions of March first and second, 1997, when a group of architects and artists lay down their beds in a public square to protest the increased homelessness in the city of Toronto. The group occupied parks and participated in demonstrations to draw attention to housing and other citizen needs. Mattress City manages at once to be a record of protest and play, both of anger and pleasure, art and action. It invites spectators to become involved in and take joy from the politics of making place. It is this kind of sheer joy and playfulness that characterizes Robert Kennedy’s portrait of Flamingo, a Flemish elder who has created a veritable wonderland garden out of found objects and refuse which he recycles into a magical place in Flamingo Bibi’s Wonderland. The division between nature and the built environment is blurred in this metamorphosis of haptic harmonies and creative imaginings. It is the ongoing process of collecting discarded things, of making a place for them that Kennedy underscores as the touching activities of this gardener. Flamingo’s project, as with all gardens, is an ongoing encounter between the past and the future. Finally, In the House on the Street comes to a close in a moment of sublimity with Bruce Baillie’s All My Life — a simple shot of what it means to be at home is rendered with the cinematic eloquence that comes from years of wonder.



Program Details

Saturday September 4, 8:00
Symphony Barn
#393889 Consession 2 EGR, Durham
(3 km. north of Grey Road 4)

Astor Place

11 min. (1998)

Eve Heller

A hidden camera was set up behind a mirror on a busy pedestrian intersection in New York City. This Goffmanesque study of how people perform their identities is an enactment of the urban ballet city theorists have described. Bodies are perfectly synchronized, crossing, turning, running, walking, skipping or slowly shuffling along to their unknown destinations. Quick glances followed by hands shuffling through hair or straightening jackets are consistent throughout the lengthy takes that make up this film.

Stalker

12 min. (2002)

Cara Morton

The artist has a recurring dream that she is stuck in a movie with Julia Roberts—the movie is the blockbuster Sleeping with the Enemy. Recreating some of the interior shots of the home in which Roberts is being stalked; Morton becomes a character in the film that is stalking Roberts. A frightening and humorous experiment in understanding the feminine and gothic nature of haunted houses.

Confessions of a Compulsive Anarchist

6 min. (2004)

Mary Daniels

Trying to come to terms with her mother’s illness, the artist sifts through home movies that span two decades of visits home. Through these pieces of the past, she is able to discern the organizational structures that were designed by her mother to order the daily life of the household. Like a sleuth, Daniels uncovers profound meanings in the simple patterns and epistemologies of home economics.

House Movie

15 min. (1972)

Rick Hancox

House Movie is a direct autobiography, with events interpreted as they were in progress. It is about living intimately with another person, in a rented house, which never becomes home, due to an unavoidable separation. At times the camera almost takes the point of view of the architecture, as witness to the kind of transient emotions common to houses like this. Using a Rachmaninoff excerpt, the film is edited symphonically, with theme and subordinate theme, development and recapitulation, echoed in the recurring visual motifs and rhythmic cutting.

Rhapsody on a Theme from a House Movie

7 min. (1972)

Lorne Marin

“É creating a subtle, shifting collage of static dwellings and abstracted, moving dwellers. Focusing in, yet never invading, suggesting depths by softly touching surfaces, the film concentrates on the exterior yet indicates an interior in which houses become homes become community...” - Helle Viirlaid

Transitions

10 min. (1982)

Barbara Sternberg

Transitions is a film of inner life and speaks of time, reality, power. It depicts the disquieting sensations of being between - between falling asleep and being awake, between here and there, between being and non-being. These metaphysical themes are evoked by the central image of a woman in white over which layers of images and sound (voices) are superimposed.

Somewhere Between Jalostotitlan and Encarnacion

6 min. (1984)

Philip Hoffman

A travelogue of Hoffman’s trip across North America, Somewhere Between Jalostotitlan and Encarnacion brings together several disconnected events: a horn band in Guadalajara, a Catholic procession in Toronto, traffic in Colorado. These scenes are connected through the poetic recollection of a boy that was killed by a truck ‘somewhere between’. Poetic text replaces the images of the scene which are absent from the film. The street in these different localities provides a common lexicon through which a redemptive humanist geography comes to surface. The film is a haiku.

Eulogy / Obverse

7 min. (1999)

Ryan Feldman

This film explores the relationship between filming and exploiting subject matter, through the thought process of the filmmaker who is curious and obsessed with trying to understand the way images work on himself and the rest of the world. The piece poses questions about the responsibility of the filmmaker, during the filming of the death (presumably) of a street person.

Mattress City

8 min. (1998)

Kika Thorne and Adrian Blackwell

On March 1 + 2nd of 1997, a group of architects and artists lay down their beds in the public square to protest the homelessness and possible migration the Tory government enforced through amalgamation, service cuts, tax hikes... The February Group is Adrian Blackwell, Cecelia Chen, Luis Jacob, Christie Pearson and Kika Thorne and everyone who make the event come alive.

Flamingo’s Bigi Wonderland

14 min. (1986)

Robert Kennedy

The film is a portrait of “Flamingo,” an elderly Flemish ŽmigrŽ who has constructed an elaborate wonder-world of painted junk-objects on the grounds of his apartment building in Toronto. In taking a contemplative “tour,” the film emphasizes the continual process of metamorphosis and revision that animates the garden under the care of its energetic founder.

All My Life

3 min. (1966)

Bruce Baillie

Even though much of his reputation may rest on his multiple imagery compositions, [Bruce Baillie] has the power to create compelling and evocative work of disarmingly simple form, like the superb ‘All My Life.’” - Lenny Lipton, Berkeley Barb