Street Theatre was a potentially tragic mistake in experimental silent film gone right!
In college at the University of Montana I produced a short experimental work as part of a class in the Department of Video Production while studying in Media Arts.
We were allowed to film with an old yet really sweet Bolex 8mm camera owned by Professor Mark Shogren who also taught the class. Mark was without a doubt my favorite teacher in the Media Arts program… (sorry, Twigg! I still love ya man!). We were encouraged to mostly use creative methods such as lighting, lenses, glass fish bowls… anything! I could have easily screwed up the process by taking the easy outlet of compromising skill by only using digital means available on the software.
It happened by mistake. While playing back the film on the projector so I could then film the footage on mini-DV to digitize it, the first few frames lit on fire in the projector! It was 10 seconds of pyromania in what was once a lonely and mundane, darkened classroom. I thought I had ruined my beautiful footage captured days earlier in the rainy streets of downtown Missoula, where Macy’s used to be. I would have been royally pissed if that precious footage was lost because it wasn’t a staged or controlled event that happened where I could tell the performers to do it again. It wound up being one of the best things that happened in the course besides learning how to develop film. What played back on the projector screen in the end was SOOOO cool. You notice the cracked or jagged border in the first parts of the silent film? That happened because the fire burnt a hole through the first frames. From there I composited the rest of the footage to make it look like all the action was happening inside the cracked frame.
I now use this film “eff-up” as a filter for other work including my latest documentary.
At about a minute and twenty seconds in, you can see the top of the border is blue, as if a stage curtain is parted and you’re witnessing an abstract, absurd yet beautiful performance in a theatre. I love that because it combines my influences of the theatre into this creation. What I filmed actually was street theatre of talented young dancers; except for the crazy space cadet in the black jacket trying in vein to desperately escape his helmet. That lucky captive was a fellow student and friend of mine, Matt Ferguson. I don’t know if he can dance, in case you’re wondering, and I didn’t want to find out. I could have left out that part entirely from the film, keeping the focus on the dance itself, but I think it gives it more of an eclectic feel to the piece.
The music is Bouree by Jethro Tull, one of my favorite classic rock bands. I thought it most fitting to use because it’s a classical dance instrumental that flows with the tempo of the ladies dancing (sort of!).