Apocalypse Pooh (1987)

31 01 2010

Recently I have become increasingly interested in the mash-up (mainly because I am making my own), in both music and video.  While many of them are purely meant for entertainment (Lady Gaga vs. Christopher Walken), there is a unique ability of the mash-up to create powerful associations simply by overlapping and juxtaposing exceedingly disparate works.  For example, Apocalypse Pooh:

(I was originally going to post this version, which is much better quality.  But, I realized it is a remake, edited on newer technology.  The one above is the original.  Much of the original’s quality comes from its poor quality, attributed to the technology he had to use to create it.)

There is something incredibly surreal and disturbing about the combination of Winnie-the-Pooh with Apocalypse Now.  Something that is present in the original images/sounds, but that could only be brought out by the mash-up.  It is incredibly unnerving watching Pooh dancing to the sounds of Apocalypse Now, and something so perfect about Piglet’s performance of the monologue.

The short was made in 1987 by Todd Graham, using VHS tapes and linear digital editing technology (VHS decks).  It was illegal — since he used copyright material — and it was one of the new-avant-garde films of the late-80s/early-90s.  Breaking from what had become traditional experimental film (Stan Brakhage, among other “almost-dead white men”), this short helped fuel the interest in DIY remixing and mash-ups.  It was never officially released, only being shown underground, and until the Internet happened, it had to be shared through bootlegged VHS tapes.

I could go on and on, but there is already another essay out there which is much more articulate and researched than I.  So I will give you some quotes, and direct you here: “The Horror, Piglet, The Horror” by Scott MacKenzie.

In its eight minutes, Apocalypse Pooh successfully condenses the entire, allegorical, mythological and grandiose narrative of Coppola’s film and provides a critical meta-commentary on both Apocalypse Now and the Winnie the Pooh featurettes. … Not only is this surrealist vision an entirely appropriate encapsulation of Apocalypse Now, it is also one of the best Pooh films ever made, if not the best, as the détourned characters reveal not only the Ur-text to Coppola’s film, but also of their own animated images. Furthermore, Apocalypse Pooh invites one to revisit the Pooh films, which most viewers probably haven’t considered since childhood (after all, they are not a staple of ‘Introduction to Film’ courses), and read them against the grain, through the glass of colonialism, Coppola and Conrad. This project can lead to strange, yet interesting, results. (MacKenzie) Read More…

Which is exactly why I am attracted to the mash-up.

RATING: 10/10

Shirin (2008)

28 01 2010

Abbas Kiarostami’s new project, Shirin (2008), creates a reflexive film on spectatorship, in which the viewer becomes a significant component of the piece.  For this film he hired 112 famous actresses to come to his house where he filmed five-minute segments in which they acted as if they were watching a film.  He told them, “since you are spectators in the dark all alone, no one checks you out… You’re not being watched, so you’re more yourself.”  He attempted to capture the “private, personal moments” of watching a movie, by filming close-ups of these women’s faces.  They are watching a film based on a Persian myth, “Khosrow and Shirin,” for which we hear the entire soundtrack, but see none of—the film does not actually exist.  The actors do not see the film, or hear the soundtrack (it was not decided what the narrative would be until afterward), so every one of their reactions is fabricated.

Shirin at first seems to take the form of portraiture—the shots are very similar to what one would see in a photograph.  However, the images quickly become unsettling; what may seem natural in a photograph becomes confrontational when the subject we are looking at looks back—when they are no longer an object on the screen, but a living, breathing, moving person.  Our gaze is challenged by the returned gaze; we become the screen ourselves as we watch, and are watched by, the actors playing spectators.  The actors, in turn, are imagining that they are watching themselves (actors) in a film.  This is made more confusing by the sounds of the film, which place us into the same theater-space as the women on the screen; we hear the same soundtrack that they hear, and since they are not actually watching a film, we imagine the film along with them.  There is a shifting relationship between subject and object—sometimes we are the observers, other times we are being observed.

The film cannot really be watched as one would usually watch a movie.  While there is a narrative that you can follow through the dialogue and sound effects, the piece is more installational–it is something you would expect to see in a gallery, not something you would sit and watch for entertainment.  It is an incredibly interesting development of Kiarostami’s style and omnipresent reflexivity.  While his films have always been non-traditional, he is moving further and further away from creating films as narrative entertainment, and towards a sort of product that literally forces audience interaction.

As an incredibly interesting experiment with film as a medium I give it: 9/10