J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Tribeca ’16: Seances

Of all the inter-acty programs at this year’s Tribeca, you have to get behind this one, because it directly and necessarily led to the creation of Guy Maddin’s incomparable cinema fantasia The Forbidden Room. Originally, this was the interactive tribute to and resurrection of lost silent films Maddin had in mind, but a condition of his funding required the production of a conventional feature film as well. This is probably the only time Maddin’s Forbidden Room and the word “conventional” will ever appear in the same paragraph. Regardless, Maddin, Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson, and the National Film Board of Canada allow viewers the chance to invoke the spirits of some of the weirdest silent ever lost in Seances (trailer here), which concludes it viewing period today at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.

Twelver viewers at a time enter the Seances booth, where they choose the elements of their film on the spiritualist’s table and then sit back to enjoy the show. After it concludes, the unique algorithm that produced the fifteen minute-ish short is deleted, so it can never be replayed. Much like Forbidden Room, Seances introduces an eccentric set of characters in the framing device that soon melts into some sort of flashback sequence, which is interrupted in turn by a Maddinesque flight of fancy, before repacking itself like a Russian doll.

After watched three in row at Tribeca, certain elements started to reappear, but scenes never repeated themselves. There are an awful lot of trippy, ghost films for participating viewers to draw from, featuring Maddin regulars like Geraldine Chaplin (who truly provides an apostolic link to the silent era), Mathieu Almaric, Maria de Medeiros, Charlotte Rampling, and the great Udo Kier. (In fact, the Seances producer seemed rather receptive to our suggestion for a special Udo Kier button, allowing each audience to vote yes or no whether they wanted some tasty Udo nuttiness in their film.)

Seances is wildly cool, but the VR-oriented Tribeca Festival Hub might not be the most sympathetic place to showcase it. There is just too great a disparity between the be-a-shark-in-the-ocean, be-a-lion-on-the-Serengeti VR programs and Seances, which offers patrons the chance to make their own unique Guy Maddin movie, especially if you are not already familiar with his work.

Be that as it may, Seances a characteristically visionary work from Maddin. Sly and surreal, it presents silent cinema like you have never seen it before. For instance, the assembled films all have sound. They also have macabre humor and an exceptional degree of artistry, most definitely including the work of cinematographers Stephanie Weber-Biron and Benjamin Kasulke. It always looks like a Maddin film, which means you might think it poured directly out of his subconscious. Highly recommended for multiple viewings, Seances is on view at the Festival Hub until 11:00 pm tonight (4/17), as a Storyscapes selection at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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