Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
2 By Decker: Butter on the Latch
hipsters always think communing with nature sounds great, but what if there is
something sinister and uncanny out there in the woods? Frankly, it is unclear
whether an emotionally agitated performance artist is running away from the malevolence
or towards it. Either way, things are bound to end badly, but at least it will
be underscored by some lively Balkan music in Josephine Decker’s Butter on the Latch (trailer here), one of her two pseudo-experimental
features, which open this Friday at the IFP Made in New York Media Center.
performing her latest theater piece, Sarah gets an alarming call from a friend
who has been drugged and violated in a strange house, but perhaps that was
actually Sarah. Regardless, after her empathic freak-out on the streets of
Brooklyn, she suddenly decides to meet up with her friend Isolde at a Balkan
Music Festival in the Northern California forests outside Mendocino.
first, Isolde is surprised but happy to see Sarah. They laugh and catch-up,
sharing some of the most sexually explicit anecdotes you will hear outside of a
Zalman King movie. In fact, the energy and attitude of these sequences suggest Butter would have been a better film if
it had been talkier. However, their friendship soon frays to the breaking
point. On the surface level, the lunk-headed charm of a certain banjo player
stirs up their jealousy, but there might also be a supernatural agency at work.
though Butter is just a tick longer
than an hour, it is more about its atmospheric intangibles than conventional
narrative. At times, it is flat-out pretentious and it is never slavishly
hung-up on logic. Nevertheless, Decker conveys a powerful sensation of
something messed up going on, just outside our field of vision. Although it is
quite catchy, the Balkan music (dig those sideways trumpets) further reinforces
the sense of otherness.
Butter is a film by performance
artists, for performance artists, about performance artists. Yet, it is
somewhat more watchable than it sounds. Sarah Small and Isolde Chae-Lawrence
develop a nice bantering rhythm together, giving Butter a greater human dimension than most narrative-challenging
experimental films. On the other hand, it has more than enough out-of-focus
shots of characters’ backs as they silently walk through the woods.
Indeed, it displays all the excesses one might expect
from Decker (who gained notoriety disrobing during Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present performance at
MoMA). Despite creating a powerful mood of foreboding, she never really takes
it anywhere. Odd and rather raggedy, Butter
will receive plenty of knee-jerk praise and be unfairly dismissed out of
hand, but it is really just a somewhat interesting but wildly uneven attempt at
radical paganism. Only recommended for hearty fans of avant-garde cinema, Butter on the Latch opens this Friday
(11/14) at the IFP’s MINY Media Center in Brooklyn.
Labels: Experimental Film, Josephine Decker