Sunday, November 14, 2004

Lisa Jarnot

Blogs can sometimes exert a weird, personal, voyeuristic fascination.

There is a small list of blogs that I ritualistically check every day. It's part of an ongoing process of peering through a window into someone's mind, and discovering a gradually unfolding person and personality.

My friend Joey, whom I've mentioned before, has long been a fan of the poetry of Lisa Jarnot. And when she started a blog, he followed it raptly. Like in any body of work, themes and motifs started to emerge, all contributing to a complex, evolving personal portrait.

When Lisa Jarnot starred in an acclaimed avant-garde film this year, he and I were eager to see it.

And so we bundled into some warm clothes and hit the road to Canada earlier this week.

The Cinematheque Ontario in Toronto screened Jennifer Reeves's film The Time We Killed, with Jarnot, and Reeves even flew up from New York to present the film and do a Q&A afterwards.

The Time We Killed is about a mentally troubled woman (played by Jarnot) who shuts herself up in her Brooklyn apartment, afraid to go out. Reeves presents, through a 90-minute collection of virtuosic images, the interior state of this woman--her nostalgic childhood memories, recollections of her ex-lover, and her impressions of the world, both real and unreal.

9/11 hits. She stirs out briefly: "Terrorism got me out of the house...but the war on terror drove me right back in."

The most amazing thing about this film, its knockout punch, is its ravishing high-contrast visual texture. Shot on a variety of materials--digital video, 16 mm and super-8, all using the unifying principle of high- contrast--the movie also weaves into Jarnot's voiceover several of her wonderful, swirling, mesmeric poems.

Over the years, Reeves took her Bolex with her on trips around the world, and filmed animals, landscapes, and people. She then ingeniously folded this footage into The Time We Killed, in essence creating, as she put it, "a home movie for a fictional character."

A little personal observation from the film. Lisa Jarnot has long, slender, beautiful hands and fingers. A small physical detail such as this would probably never register in a conventional, narrative-driven film (which is too busy propelling the story forward to privilege such detail), but here it leaps right into the foreground of the film.

But art is also artifice. It turns out that both Reeves and Jarnot have physically similar hands and though we don't realize it, the film uses footage of both Reeves' and Jarnot's hands--an old movie trick.

Jennifer Reeves said that she met Lisa Jarnot on a "blind friendship date" initiated by Stan Brakhage, who knew both of them well. Reeves later put out a casting call for this movie, received hundreds of actress head shots, and then decided that she'd rather cast a friend in the part than some professional actress she didn't know as a person.

The film has been a great success at film festivals from Berlin (where it won the international critics' prize) to Vancouver. But probably because it is something anomalous, a feature-length avant-garde film--most avant-garde films tend to be shorts--it is still without a distributor.

[There is an interesting, in-depth interview with Reeves in the new issue of Cinema Scope magazine].