Big Muddy Response Paper

My relationship with The Big Muddy Film festival is a bit different than others. I was this years president which meant that while others were sitting down and gorging themselves on fantastic films I was running about doing this and that. It was not until the final day of the festival that I was able to sit down with a lovely audience at Longbranch Cafe and watch some of the films. These films were the best of the fest, many of which I had seen during preparations for the festival, but one was foreign to me. This film was Sweet, Sweet Gravy an experimental film that had slipped past me in the time leading up to the festival. The film was humorous, intriguing, and rather disgusting drawing out several visceral yet engaged reactions from those packed in the cafe’s backroom. As someone who rarely sees experimental films outside of a small group of fellows who enjoy them I was very pleased to be with a large group who may not have been ready but certainly were able to adapt to the screening of such a bizarre film.
Sweet, Sweet Gravy is a collection of “conversations” between artists not talking about art directly but instead talking about the gravy. The first character simply talk into the camera, then after an interlude with a lever pulling man clearly inspired by the one in Eraserhead we sit in with two men on a theater stage eating dinner. Each scene progresses further and further away from reality ending up in a computer generated, green screen landscape. As most good experimental films do this one tells you almost nothing about what it is about, it touches on many aspects of the creative process and how we value art but nothing concrete. It provokes instead of implants thought which always leads to more genuine reactions from the viewer. Though we do not know what the gravy is we are acting with the film by trying to figure out the meaning. The gravy is described as a filmy bowl of milk, is talked about like it were ambrosia from Olympus, and is shown as a black sludge contained in a jar reading “soul”; there is no simple way to go about deciphering the film. As a creator myself I was able to find a lot of meaning in this ill defined word gravy that is used over and over again in the film. It never means the same thing because the more it is used the more it never means anything much like other words we use when discussing creativity such as original, inspired, (or the one I am most guilty of) interesting. Our discourse about art and creation can become so muddled that our very words because useless and no one is able to know what anyone else is really talking about.
Often during Big Muddy pre-screenings this can become an issue. We are looking through film after countless film trying to decide which should have a chance of being accepted and discussing each with what we hope to be equal amounts of intelligence and soon are words turn into mush as we search for the gravy. The experimental films we receive at the Big Muddy can often be sorted into two categories: Structural which deal with the technic and material of the piece and Cerebral which tackle issues, themes, matter of the heart, society, dystopia, utopia, ideas, and thoughts. These categories are often key components in the search for gravy. If a streak of structural films come through in one sitting it will have us act more critical and piercing than if a single structural came in the center of a hurricane of cerebral films. The gravy becomes what we are not use to in the momentary not what is good in the long haul.
Of course, the gravy is not always treacherous. When a film is great it is great. Two years ago now, I was pre-screening experimental films and I came across one titles Anatomical Gifts. It told the story of three generations of women through beautiful visuals creating a familial montage that has stuck with me ever sense. This is what I believe is occasionally talked about in Sweet, Sweet Gravy. The pure art that moves and sticks with someone. Art that leaves an impact. That is the gravy that is so ill defined in the film, but how could you define it? Art is subjective not because there is some inherent mystery to it but because looking for something else when we go into it. We don’t quite know what the gravy will taste like, sometimes we are so desperate to find it we lower our standards, but we always will know the taste of it when we experience it.
Sweet, Sweet Gravy is a surreal, absurd short that delves into how we experience and make art. This mission is not a unique one, it is often the focus of artist to make art about art, but it does bring in some interesting satire of the way we talk about what we consume. It definitely helped me see how to better curate art as I did for this years festival. So despite my business during festival week even the smallest bit of content helped me grow.


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