ARTISTRY & THE REEL LIFE – AN EXAMINATION OF VIDEO ART & FASHION FILM

Untitled4_Kerry Tribe_Power Plant_photos by Toni Hafkenscheid-CMYK+
Kerry Tribe – Power Plant

AN UNSOLVED HOLLYWOOD murder mystery with an eerily familiar script. A young filmmaker pays magnificent homage to Diana Vreeland in her brother’s bedroom. A fashion designer explains how a creative short gone viral helps to democratize the way collections are viewed. Artists of various disciplines are flexing their cinematic powers and using film to communicate ideas, with compelling, evocative and beautiful results — none of which are intended for the blockbuster screen. Film continues to evolve, telling stories with a depth and an intensity that other media, artistically or commercially, cannot. The medium’s inarguable ubiquity is further increased by the proliferation of mobile video. With a smart phone, everyone is a director. For the first time, A Shaded View on Fashion Film included mobile video in its presentations this year, further blurring the lines between those who create and those who consume video content. Whether viewed in a slick art gallery, watched from a perch at a fashion show, or lazily taken in from bed on a laptop, please, do watch.

L.A.-based artist Kerry Tribe has built much of her career in experimental film, with a focus on memory and recollection. Her major solo exhibition of work, Speak, Memory, which recently wrapped its Canadian premiere at The Power Plant in Toronto, is anchored by Tribe’s latest film project, There Will Be _____. In keeping with her exploration of memory, couched in the history and apparatus of film, Tribe tells the (literally) haunting story of the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills.

In the late 1920’s, the owner of the mansion, Ned Doheny, and his trusted family assistant Hugh Plunkett were found murdered and the mystery of their deaths was never solved. “The mansion then became a hub of the Hollywood film industry”, explains Melanie O’Brien, curator and head of programs at The Plant. The American Film Institute used Greystone mansion for its offices before it was opened up as popular filming location. The impressive list of films shot at the mansion include The Social Network, Spider-Man, X- Men, America’s Sweethearts, The Big Lebowski , Death Becomes Her, and of course, There Will Be Blood. Tribe continually harkens to this cinematic history as she tells the mansion’s story.

Actually, to be clear, Tribe tells Greystone’s ghastly tale in five ways. Viewers watch as she constructs five plausible story lines (was it a double murder? A murder/suicide? Were Doheny and Plunkett lovers?), though as the murders were never solved, there is no conclusion. The film gives viewers a sense of repetition, déjà vu and the feeling of being stuck in a climax without any dénouement, as they witness the murder over and over again in its five possible incarnations.

Below the surface, Tribe’s work is richer than its imagery. While visually impactful, it is also peppered with tongue-and-cheekisms. The actors aren’t real actors so much as they are symbols or ideas of Hollywood typecasts. The blood is almost a little too red. And the choppy, and at times arbitrary, dialogue is fully intended. The entire script, every single word, of There Will Be _____. is cut and pasted from the lines of films that were shot at the Greystone Mansion—a task that must have been obsessive for Tribe.

If experimental film is at one end of the cinematic continuum, fashion films straddle somewhere between art and commercial interest. In fact, fashion film just may be the perfect intersection of art and commerce. When a designer is given a forum to flex their creative muscle so that their creations become characters, viewers are sold much more than clothing: they are brought into the fantasy of fashion without the confines (or daunting budget) of producing an advertising spot. At their core, persuasive fashion films make us want to buy clothing. And when done very well, fashion films launch designers to new heights.

Film Still from Jayne Pierson
Film Still from Jayne Pierson

Jayne Pierson’s first foray into fashion film as a young designer helped catapult her work to the masses. Born in Wales and raised in Dallas, she studied under the tutelage of McQueen as an undergraduate. In the fall of 2009, Pierson debuted her collection at On|Off, London Fashion Week, sponsored by Vogue.com and Lotus. In 2010, she was credited as one of Vogue Italia’s talents to watch for. The next year, her fashion film Twin Parallel (directed by Justin Anderson) won “Best Styling in a Fashion Film” in Diane Pernet’s coveted A Shaded View on Fashion Film Festival. The investment required to produce the film was a wise one to make, and Pierson created a second fashion film, exclusively shown online with Vogue Italia and later French Vogue online.

Pierson’s inspiration for the fashion film Twin Parallel, was the birth of her own twins, and the exploration of time, space and identity. If twins are pulled apart and live different experiences in totally different spaces, how linked are their identities, if at all? That central question not only underpinned the film but also Pierson’s S/S 2011 collection. And with that rich inspiration at the core, Pierson used film to convey what a runway presentation could not.

She lauds film’s intensity, “undiluted format and ability to allow viewers to enter a world, a microcosm of twenty minutes of mayhem. You can’t do that on a catwalk”. From a pragmatic perspective, she points out an interesting logistical concern for a designer, which is that their own runway presentation is always seen from the back of the house. Designers never experience their collection in the same way that their audience does. Film democratizes a collection’s presentation. The designer and the audience share the exact same experience of taking in the collection, from the same vantage point.

Pierson touches on the inherent elitism of runway shows — relatively small presentations to an audience of people cherry-picked to attend. She explains that those sitting in the crowds of fashion shows aren’t passively attending; they may be concerned with how they themselves look, from the shoes they are wearing, to the handbags they carry, to who is seated beside them. Pierson’s insight is bang-on: It is harder to lose oneself and become fully immersed in a runway show than it is a film, because of the pretenses associated with attending fashion shows.

She continues to explain that extending a collection’s presentation beyond a runway and into a film isn’t just about democratizing the experience, which it is, but also opening up the doors for the masses. Posting a film online and encouraging it to go viral, completely opens up who sees it, no embossed fashion week invitation or industry pedigree required. A runway show is seen by a relatively select few eyeballs whereas Twin Parallel has garnered well over 12,000 views by those that have sought it out.

Logistically, runway presentations are heavily controlled. Sure, the venue, backdrop, music, lighting and casting warrant creative freedom, but fashion shows are relatively short, and follow a rigid structure. For Pierson, film provides an ideal medium to tell her collection’s story in a capacity beyond what a runway presentation can afford. Silks are captured with ethereal richness and slowness. Fabrics shine a bit more illustriously. Moods and emotions run just a little bit deeper.

Currently, Pierson is working on her S/S 2013 line and hints there may indeed be more fashion films in store. But, she clarifies, “they happen last minute, organically coming about”. Her interest in film extends far beyond the medium as a conduit to showcase her work. This fall, Pierson will begin her doctorate with a focus on costume and performance.

Film Still of video by Eva Michon
Film Still of video by Eva Michon

Toronto’s Eva Michon doesn’t design clothing, yet her cinematic interests continue to bend towards fashion. Her shorts, commissioned by designers such as Pink Tartan, CALLA, Bishop Morocco, Trust and Canadian luxury retailer Holt Renfrew, are covered with her signature narrative.

Whether making music videos, fashion shorts or a fictional piece about rats in her apartment (well, quasi-fictional, the rats happened), Michon can narrate one hell of a story. She loves the decidedly optimistic medium of film. It is possible to make impactful work on a modest budget, nail a creative concept and tell a story – all in a form that is conducive to going viral. She effuses about the medium of film with passion: the minutia control of music, timing and rich base of stimulation. “So much in cinema inspires me. I am really affected by film. I am one of those people in a theatre that demands silence. I need to be fully immersed.”

Her ability to tell stories and craft characters in mere minutes is uncanny, often rooted in a humble discussion with the designer. She explains how designer Rita Liefhebber first approached her in the fall of 2010 for concepts around her Spring/Summer 2011 connection with a carte blanche, ‘do whatever the hell you want’ attitude, which Michon embraces. The result is a beautiful and conceptual short that puts the focus on Liefhebber’s designs, literally, as the models are made transparent.

In fact, this first Spring/Summer film she worked on with Liefhebber continues to be one of Michon’s favourite pieces because it was, and continues to be, so different from anything else she’s done. That particular debut video for Rita Liefhebber stands in contrast to the pithy short she did for Holt Renfrew’s fashion week opener in fall 2010, Mrs. Vreeland. The show, featuring Canadian designers Pink Tartan, Mikhael Kale, Jeremy Laing, Denis Gagnon, Smythe and more, opened with Michon’s image of the famed editor smoking away and pounding at the keys of her typewriter. Michon worked closely with Holt Renfrew’s creative director at the time, John Gerhardt, and considers their creative process to be typical of most of her clients. She explains their ease and enthusiasm, “If they like it, they will tell you they love it. If they don’t like it, it’s ok, you move on”. Michon managed to balance the creative process (and surely some considerable pressure, given by the client) to produce a piece that feels interesting, slick and accessible – and is on-brand for Canada’s flagship luxury retailer.

Perhaps the video’s success can be attributed to Michon’s ‘work with what you’ve got’ approach. She shot Mrs. Vreeland in her brother’s bedroom at their childhood home. The African artifacts staged around the room where Mrs. Vreeland (played by Michon’s mother in law, by the way) types away aren’t staged at all: they are keepsakes from when Michon’s family lived in South Africa.

Michon’s soft spoken but confident approach and iron-clad work ethic instill a level of trust and assurance in those commissioning her work, which affords her a good deal of creative freedom. She manages pressure with a soft smile and humble shrug, “I know there are expectations. I know I have to please people. I want to make things that appeal to people. If it doesn’t work out, they won’t use it and I’ll move on. I don’t get too hung up”.

Article by Karen Cleveland for The Untitled Magazine

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