CULTURE- ART FEATURE- It's all relative: With families like these, who needs...
In the Talking Heads' "Sax and Violins," David Byrne sings, "Mom & Pop, They will f*ck you up. For sure." This weekend's "Kin Flicks"-themed Virginia Film Festival will, no doubt, provide numerous celluloid expressions of that sentiment. Several of the scheduled films, however, such as those of Su Friedrich and Brent Green, take dysfunction and turn it into art.
Like the yin to last week's column's yang– Alan Berliner's father-focused Nobody's Business– Su Friedrich's The Ties that Bind uses similar components– home movies, still photographs, and symbolic imagery– to tell the story of her mother, Lore Bucher, a woman who lived through the Nazi regime in Germany before marrying an American soldier and immigrating to the U.S. But Friedrich's 55-minute film is more abstract in its visuals than Berliner's, and she purposely avoids using that staple of biographical documentaries, the talking head.
Instead, we see frames of Friedrich's mother's gestures or other footage– sometimes clearly related, other times not so much– accompanying a soundtrack of her mother's recollections. Friedrich, somewhat disingenuously, removes her own voice from the picture, instead scratching narration and the questions she asks her mother onto the film itself, so it annoyingly flickers by one word at a time). That distraction aside, this 1984 film's harrowing story of life during wartime and under subsequent American occupation is particularly relevant today.
Friedrich's 1990 Sink or Swim picks up almost where The Ties that Bind leaves off, examining the filmmaker's troubled relationship with her father, a famed linguistic anthropologist who abandoned her family in the early 1960s. More polished and formally structured, Sink or Swim is arranged into 26 expressionistic chapters, subversively moving from Z-A, that use the same visual tactics to explore Friedrich's childhood memories. Again, the filmmaker absents herself from the film, resorting to a third-person narration of Greek myths and fairytale-like personal stories, read in voiceover by a young girl.
Moving farther away from standard filmmaking and even deeper into dark dysfunction, Brent Green's presentation of stop-motion animated shorts, crafted from his nightmarish sculptures and drawings and accompanied by frenetic poetic narration and live music, is a festival must-see. Green ‘s website, nervousfilms.com, promises the Gravity Lounge event will be "an entire hour spent on the verge of collapse."
No matter what dysfunction they explore, both Friedrich and Grant capture another family fact that completes the Talking Heads lyric: "Love so deep, kills you in your sleep. It's true."
Su Friedrich screens and discusses The Ties that Bind on November 2 at 1pm at Vinegar Hill Theatre, where she also presents Sink or Swim on November 3 at 10am. Brent Green brings his one-of-kind show of animated films and live music to the Gravity Lounge November 2 at 7pm. 800-882-3378. vafilm.com.