Saturday, September 21, 2013

Side Journeys:Objects As Actor in Pasadena

As the summer season eked out what looked to be a convulsive series of death throes that continue slightly into today, I was able to venture out with partner to a local gathering after my own heart. Last Saturday's visit to Objects As Actor, a one-of-a-kind symposium regarding the importance of the tactile in cinema was one akin to a free treasure trove of all things that make the Kaijyu roll over with excitement. Organized by Noam Toran, and taking place over nearly one full day, this diverse celebration of the movie world's use and reliance on vital trinkets, articles, and clutter was one attended by not only many local students here at Art Center College Of Design, but also many film enthusiasts, would be creators, and even science fiction writers/commentators. All in the name of exploring the importance of not only making fictional realms into believable realities, but of allowing viewers to better explore the human role in all of it. And while we weren't there for the beginning, or the end, we caught just enough presentation and discussion to fill a multitude of projects. As direct, as it was philosophical in nature, the welcoming feel of the campus, coupled by some truly interactive guests and attendees made it all worthwhile.

Among the standout guests in attendance, were..

Rob O' Neill - Filmmaker, Designer, Lead Character Technical Developer and programmer over at Dreamworks. His talk regarding the importance of objects as character symbols was good natured fun.

Amy Kane - Foley Artist - A true spiritual blast from my past, as she detailed (with assistance and props including dirt and breakable boards) the still very relevant art of foley sound work for films. Discussed her favorite projects, and the challenges of making sounds that are utterly convincing in both fantasy and realistic worlds. Was happy to hear stories of her entry into the business, as well as her days working on shows such as Deadwood, and big films like Oz The Great And Powerful. We even had a demonstration involving her boot work attuned to Woody Harrelson's character in Zombieland, and some gushing at her new gig with the new series, Masters Of Sex. So many memories of listening to and speaking with multi award winner Solange Schwalbe about the delicate humanness attributed to sound design, and how vital it is for us to not notice it. It's very much the ninjutsu of film post-production. This was the section where I had the most fun asking questions afterward, and hearing of how necessary it still is to the overall process.

(Even when an upcoming guest wondered why this hadn't been rendered obsolete as of yet. Not the most respectful question. But one easily answered, as technology has yet to function as realistically and chaotically as organic beings do. And that the average viewer can very much still tell the difference.)

Following a short break (and cleanup of the stage area..) came a brief presentation by Kane's assistant who's name escapes me unfortunately, who detailed a favorite use of objects as weapon against the Hollywood studio system by none other than Canadian master, David Cronenberg. Through his film Dead Ringers(1988), which was produced shortly after his experience making the 1986 remake ,The Fly, he was able to utilize the psychotic twin characters played by Jeremy Irons to make a thinly veiled jab at the gap between artists, the opportunistic, and the commercial. In the film, Irons plays two deeply troubled, yet, successful gynecologists who become dangerously curious about treating who they see to be "mutant" subjects. Needing new gear to handle the delicate work, and finding no legitimate means of finding it, they seek help from the seedy local art scene. It is here that we are witness to not only the main characters and their disintegrating mindscapes, but of the director's own dissatisfaction with the bottom line. For him, film is a compulsion, and not a mere factory for profit.

For those who have yet to see Dead Ringers, this is yet another means of not only this presenter, but of mine to urge more to experience it for themselves.

Lastly for us, came the presentation by science fiction commentator and writer, Gary Westfahl, who's recent book on cyberpunk luminary, William Gibson, explores the role of design and product in the advancement in speculative fiction. His extended thoughts regarding the changing roles of technology as background to virtual foreground was a largely enticing one, albeit at times lacking in the humanity that had graced much of the presentations that had come before. From mentioning some of science fiction's most memorable uses of objects, and environments, to Gibson's almost all-enveloping dedication to detail, Westfahl's presentation was almost fetishistic in how it saw the role of detailed storytelling in the overall of human existence. While there was indeed much to mine here, there was a significant sense of the post-human happening here that almost echoed Ray Kurzweil for a time. And when considering the art of visual storytelling, such as in film, we remain in an era very much in need of familiarity in hopes of grounding us enough to invest in any wild narrative.

Be it a home upright piano on the soundtrack, to a shot of a character holding an old photo of a loved one, film always finds some thread to the simple in hopes of launching not only our fear and wishes, but our comforts beyond the stratosphere. Film, is a means of filling ourselves into the space in which we are invited by the creators. And in this way, we are bringing in our own thoughts, memories, and feelings into another's headspace. Objects are one important way this connection can happen unabated, often offering us much to consider upon walking out of the auditorium, and back into the world.

They are a link to our more fragile humanity.

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