Last spring Stacy Steers came as a visiting artist and left quit an impact on me. Her approach to animation in a poetic and almost improvisational style lends to a relaxing but provocative viewing experience. Her latest film The Edge of Alchemy is a perfect example of her recent work. Much like the found footage films we looked at last week this short uses literal pieces from other works and combines them into a beautiful collage of movement. The Edge of Alchemy has the loosest story that gives way to the art of the form itself. Her recent film also parallels to themes in Todd Haynes first film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story because both deal with a female celebrity post mortem.
Superstar deals with famous singer Karen Carpenter while The Edge of Alchemy “stars” Mary Pickford and Janet Gaynor through cut out stills from their filmography. The reason behind these choices are very different but still equally interesting. In an interview by Scott MacDonald Haynes talks about the experience of hearing a Karen Carpenter song after she had passed on, “Karen had died just three or four years earlier, and hearing that music and that voice, after the death and after the new insight into this popular figure the nature of her death had given us, was suddenly very powerful.” What I draw from this is this idea Haynes must of had of almost avenging Carpenter after the controversy of her death. He goes on to say in that interview, “Her desire to take back control over her life was something that we understood and tried to create some sympathy for.” Haynes tried to complete the quest of control through his film. I have not seen Superstar but it makes sense that even if it ends with a accurate depiction of Carpenter’s death telling it on what he believes to be her own terms he is attempting to posthumously honor her in that way. Alchemy isn’t making content about the subjects used to make it though, instead Pickford and Gaynor are icons, recognizable as women and as such Steers is able to explore larger more universal themes. It is able to explore the female experience in an expressionistic manner, never saying anything concrete but stirring up layers and layers of thought.
These uses of dead figures in culture is similar to how Haynes handles his film Poison. Though not dealing with any real world figures it does live in the past almost serving to rewrite it. The three segments: Homo, Hero, and Horror, all deal with the past. Homo is defined by the protagonist’s nostalgia for his past life in a juvenile penal colony, Hero is about uncovering the truth behind a growing urban legend, and Horror uses a B-movie motif to discuss the aids crisis. Like Alchemy and Superstar this is using elements of a past, sometimes inspired by reality sometimes fictional as a whole, and tries to give the voiceless a voice or use icons as a means to explore complex issues.