Thursday, July 24, 2008


Earlier this summer artist/filmmaker David Dixon showed his full-length film Unloosened and Root (above) at The Film Festival, accompanied by a live commentary that made for a lively and fascinating meditation on the differences between live and recorded performance. He’ll be repeating the experience on Saturday night (7/26), so we exchanged emails this week to discuss the project and encourage you, the reader, to come check it out (which you should do). Here goes…

JEFF: Your piece originally appeared at The Brick as part of "The Film Festival: A Theater Festival." Yet they were films. What is their relationship to theater/live performance?

DAVID: Unloosened and Root is a movie, yes, but at The Brick I am screening it with a live director's commentary, so there is a live performance element. I had the idea to do a live commentary about a year ago when I recorded a commentary with Ralph Lemon for the movie's DVD. Then your festival came along and seemed the perfect place to do the performance. My feeling is that the "extras" on DVD releases are becoming part of the art itself, not just adjacent supporting material. This piece is my attempt to emphasize the art of commentary. People have been telling me for years that they like my work best when I'm there to talk about it – so much for the Death of the Author – so here the talk becomes the work. Although the net effect of the performance, I'm hoping, will release the film from the question "What did he mean by that?" The performance gives "what he meant" upfront.

I'm recording the audio from these performances and will include the best one on the DVD when it is re-mastered, making a total of two commentaries, each with different information, offering an almost absurd amount of insights, anecdotes and explanations.

JEFF: How seriously do you take the boundary between theater and film? How do you feel each medium influences your concept of storytelling?

DAVID: I've done some theater but mostly as an actor, so the differences haven't influenced my storytelling as far as I can tell. I did stage a live one-man-show in 2001 titled Fake Flowers, Part IV (the old man live) and had it video taped. The day after the taping I watched it and was horrified by how weak the camera made the performance seem, but now that I've forgotten the feel of the room at the time I rather like the taped performance, an example of how powerful a live performance can be but how quickly, if it's recorded, the recording becomes the thing itself not the live performance.

Having started my art life as a (more-or-less) painter, the fleeting nature of live theater bothers me as a maker. The most joyous part of the art process for me is when the work is done and I can sit and look endlessly at the made thing. In fact, a repeated refrain in the Fake Flowers series is "Fake Flowers are Forever" – a real Dorian Gray notion – flowers that never die and are eternally in bloom, somehow outside our usual time and space but, of course, fake and static, not alive, a metaphor for painting and art.

I suppose if I were to direct a theater piece that I didn't act in I could get outside the work and watch it but I predict I would be just worried the whole time that something was going to go wrong and would not be able to relax and concentrate until after the performance was done. With a movie one can wantonly revel in its perfection, each little cut and transition staying in its place as one repeatedly watches trying to figure out what the whole means. When reading I'm constantly having to re-read sentences, could be part of the same tendency.

JEFF: What differences, if any, have you noted exhibiting film at a theater venue versus a traditional film venue?

DAVID: I started making moving images as a video artist; Unloosened and Root is my first full feature narrative film, so I'm used to showing in non-traditional film venues, by which I assume you mean a movie theater. Yet, this performance is meant to upset that assumption. During the live theater performance I encourage the audience to order the DVD from, the film's on online distributor, and watch the movie at home to have their private, subjective experience.

JEFF: Broadway has made a habit of appropriating Hollywood properties for musicals. If your film was to be adapted (or re-adapted) into a stage piece, what would you want to see done with it? What would you NOT want to see done with it? And what Hollywood stars would be appropriate for the casting?

DAVID: Considering that half the film is documentary and half is fiction it would be an interesting challenge to make a staged version and keep the reality/fiction distinction but I don't see this happening any time soon. As far as casting: I do act in this movie and it has always been my dream, whenever the opportunity presented itself, to have Don Knotts play me (I have a nervous energy that I think he could just land perfectly) but now that he's dead I'll have to go with my second choice, Angelina Jolie; hopefully she'll do as good a job as Cate Blanchett did with Dylan.

JEFF: What other projects are you working on right now?

DAVID: Just 10 days ago we finished the primary shooting for my next feature project tilted David Dixon is Dead, which, of course, I'm very excited about. It is relevant to the Brick performances in that I'm thinking of this movie as a sequel to Unloosened and Root. When it is finished I would like to show them as a double feature keeping the format of a live commentary over Unloosened and Root with David Dixon is Dead shown straight, with no commentary. Both films are about death rituals, art, and, to a degree, family – Unloosened and Root focusing on "the Mother" and David Dixon is Dead "the Father".

JEFF: Thank you very much, David! And audiences – check out the film this Saturday night, when it’ll be showing as part of a double feature with Depraved Indifference, an anthology of video work from monologist and performance artist Kenneth Shorr. Do it!

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