Friday, 13 September 2013

Ryan Trecartin - A Family Finds Entertainment

Ryan Trecartin (born 1981, Webster, Texas) is an artist and filmmaker currently based in Los Angeles. He studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, graduating with a BFA in 2004. Trecartin has since lived and worked in New Orleans, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Miami.

Trecartin’s first feature-length film, A Family Finds Entertainment (2004), was submitted as his final thesis at the Rhode Island School of Design. He was 23. It introduces a number of themes which recur throughout his work: identity as roleplay, the struggle between individual expression and communal belonging, family politics, queer culture, globalisation – and less abstract things like house parties, make-up, TV static, poster paint.

It’s a little absurd to boil this filmic fugue state down to a bare-bones narrative, but here we go: AFFE follows a young, potentially psychopathic man called Skippy (played by Trecartin) who locks himself in bathroom while his friends have a party, tells his parents he is gay, goes outside, becomes the subject of a documentary, gets run over by a car and is magically resurrected by a group sing-along before a round of fireworks. These plot coordinates create a loose framework for forty-two minutes of playful, schizoid imagery and wildly gestural performance, a film that masquerades as surrealist autobiography while dramatising a complex debate about the possibility of belonging. 
Patrick Langley

One may ask if there is some merit to this, artistically, if considered to be an experiment in creating an insufferable, obnoxious piece. However, there does not seem to be a point to this beyond that. It felt like a waste of time. Sure, it's impossible to sit through without curling into a fetal position begging for the horrific imagery to go away, and no other work I have witnessed has achieved that. But I don't know anyone who would want to sit through that, let alone enjoy it. Some art can be difficult to enjoy, yes. But I don't see it in this case as a factor of how much the viewer thinks about it, but rather how little.

The characters include a flock of face-painted horrors, screaming nonsense at the camera, and various other colorful crazies. Trecartin uses a myriad of image-processing effects to achieve his goal (I think) of creating a convoluted, visually confusing mess of a piece. There is no cohesion, there is no plot, but that is not to its detriment. It would almost be laughably terrible if it attempted to tell a comprehensible story. But no, A Family Finds Entertainment seeks only to expose you to this world of horrors. It is a forty-minute view into a hellish place that may have once been inhabited by humans, but no longer.

If A Family Finds Entertainment can be reduced to a thumbnail description, this might be it: Trecartin stars as Skippy, a clownish but terrifyingly psychopathic boy who has locked himself in the upstairs bathroom of his family home during a wild party. Ignoring his siblings' and friends' pleas that he come out, he paces the little room, cutting himself with a knife and musing opaquely on his existential dilemma in a kind of King Lear-style delirium. Downstairs, the partiers are experiencing wild mood-swings and having complex, disassociated conversations (mostly about him) that are constantly interrupted by bursts of visual effects and animated sequences that disorient the cast of characters like so many lightening strikes. Eventually Skippy emerges, borrows money from his creepy, sexually inappropriate parents, and heads outdoors, where he runs into a documentary filmmaker who decides to make a movie about him; but then Skippy is immediately hit by a car and, apparently, killed. Back inside the house, a hyperactive girl named Shin, also played by Trecartin, gets a call on her cell phone with the bad news. She spends twenty or so hysteria-filled minutes trying to focus and construct a sentence linear enough to tell her friends what has happened. When she finally does, a band plays music that seems to magically raise the young man from the dead, and everyone runs outside and sets off fireworks. Then everyone runs back inside before the police show up.
Dennis Cooper

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