Mummy’s the Word
Cinema preserves the dead for later life — it’s the mummification process of the modern age. This peculiar perspective is at the heart of Electromediascope’s winter series, The Lives of Images Reverberate in Time, at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. In Ernest Larsen and Sherry Millner’s nineteen-minute film, Some Notes on Ruins (Archeology and Cinema), screening February 9 with seven other shorts, this director-as-mummy-maker theory is proffered with clips of characters from a variety of films — from Boris Karloff to Indiana Jones — unearthing tombs.
But it’s the program on February 2 that demands immediate attention. German video artists Matthias Muller and Christoph Girardet have crafted a brilliant piece that is both a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock and an autopsy of his most prevalent themes. The 45-minute Phoenix Tapes begins with a montage of Hitchcock characters alone in eerily barren sets, where the only sounds emanate from machinery or hollow footsteps. The film closes with a shot of Ingrid Bergman waking from a deep sleep, but it slows to a speed that leaves viewers wondering whether she is fighting death.
The middle section of Phoenix Tapes is the most visceral. “Bedroom” practically cements Hitchcock’s reputation as a flaming misogynist, with dozens of scenes of women in peril. Fainting, shrieking or gasping for air, Hitchcock’s icy blondes (Tippi, Grace and Kim among them) seem destined to become the innocent toys of homicidal maniacs. By that point, the previous section has already diagrammed how the killers became homicidal maniacs — “Why Don’t You Love Me?” chops up and serves viewers every scene ever to include the word “mother.” Images of Anthony Perkins from Psycho scored to Doris Day’s line from “Que Sera Sera” (When I was just a little girl/I asked my mother, what would I be?) are priceless.
Appropriating old films into new video works “is saying art is about the choices an artist makes, not necessarily the material you set your hands on,” says Electromediascope co-curator Patrick Clancy. “It is and always has been radical.”