Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Vancouver Observer on The Passion Project

There have been so many wonderful interviews and articles about THE PASSION PROJECT this month, here's one more I just had to share with you. An interview with Reid with Tom Graff of The Vancouver Observer (find the original article here):

The Passion Project: Joan’s Story is in the Room
Tom Graff Posted: Jan 19th, 2010

The Passion Project should not be watched, it should be entered into. After all, it is an act of devotion.
— Helen Shaw, Time Out NY

Magical, and sinister, and strange – one of the most satisfying theatrical experiences I’ve had in ages.
— Claudia La Rocco, Culturebot

What beauty there is in Mr. Farrington’s work. Like Dreyer’s film it is both luminous and cruel.
— Claudia La Rocco, The New York Times

I had three questions for this articulate and fervent artist and afterward his answers filled four absorbing pages.

Reid Farrington is a media artist, theatre director, stage designer, choreographer as well as an engaging conversationalist. He creates what some might mistakenly think is performance art, what others might think is post modern performance, but in actuality is what Farrington insists astutely must be experienced as theatre.

Passion is the Project
Drama is Farrington’s métier because his clear goal is to offer the audience foremost an emotional experience, the classic impulse of all theatre. There are his “love of the technical” and the “physicality of the theatre” with its props and actors, but the attraction of theatre is that “its purpose for me is to effect the audience emotionally,” speaking on the telephone from his Brooklyn loft.

Reid Farrington has tried The Passion Project in different iterations, processing it first in video (“dull and passive”), then as projections on his loft’s white walls (“dead” “my purpose unactivated”), and finally to the more dimensional and audience-involving present version. With well over 150 performances of this version, worked through three different performers, Farrington notes the valuable “vulnerability” inherent in the work of the present performer, Laura Nicoll. “She leads and guides the audience.” He gives the feeling that his work has hit its zenith.

In the Room
“The story of Joan of Arc is in the room,” Farrington notes with “one hundred cues to hit every minute, the choreography makes connections for the audience.”

This is confirmed by audience members who have experienced the work already. The audience members situate around an open stage area during the 35 minute performance and are invited to move about to achieve different points of view, affording different paradigms, different approaches to the passions unfolding and layering. This intimate theatrical space is defined by ropes as well as Farrington’s significantly fragile projection screens which are like defenseless minimal sculptures upon which are projected a complex unfolding of multiple images from the stunning and compelling Carl-Theodor Dreyer 1928 silent film masterpiece La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc. Included as well are recorded interviews, various sound clips, combining into a kind of gesamtkunstwerk (synthesis of art forms) on archival film concerns.

Techno Guy Brings Emotions Forward
Speaking about his passion for theatre and passion
“I would say that I am firmly based in the world of theatre and I am a new media artist and director.” With this project, his first on his own with a “serious blend” of choreography, film and acting, he breaks away from being the resident video artist (think: artistic techie) for the N.Y.C. Wooster Group, a group Mr. Farrington characterizes as technical rather than emotional—“They shy away from the emotional.”

When asked about his process, the artist explains in splendidly considered detail non-stop: “My projects begin with a fascination with a particular film (“currently developing another work around director Alfred Hitchcock”) and with Passion Project he “basically fell in love with the actress Falconetti” who plays Joan in The Passion of Joan of Arc. Farrington felt compelled to “bring Falconetti back in some way.” This turned him toward live acting. It becomes a kind of talisman for the cinematic.

As film expert Acquarello asserts, “The Passion of Joan of Arc is a profoundly moving, indelible film of courage and perseverance, spirituality and conscience; a fitting tribute to the memory of the Maid of Orleans: a heroine, a martyr, a saint.”

On YouTube the 1985 reconstruction of the film can be seen in eight parts. In light of Farrington’s Passion Project, the artist notes that the original footage:

· The original film is shot almost entirely in close ups;

· The victimized Joan is filmed downward while inquisition judges only upward;

· Viewers only briefly at the outset get a sense of space between actors; and

Falconetti as muse
Renée Jeanne Falconetti was a celebrated stage artist and had appeared in two films, La contesse de Somerive and Le Clown (both in 1917) when Dreyer witnessed her acting on stage and cast her as his Joan in his La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1928). Her depiction is widely considered one of the most astounding performances ever committed to celluloid, and it would remain her final cinematic role. It is said that Dreyer's method of directing his actors pushed Falconetti to emotional collapse. This was said to have taken place so Falconetti could experience the same deprecation which Jeanne most surely received in her trial.

Researching widely, including the Danish Film institute, Farrington’s aesthetic impulses are drawn to cinematic celluloid vulnerability itself and this work was at least in part heightened and inspired by the particular ironic saga of Dreyer’s film’s destruction and resurrection, the 1928 original censured, then the print destroyed and thought for years to be lost by fire, then re-cut later in Dreyer’s 1935 version, only to have a good print of the original inexplicably show up in 1980 in a closet of a Norwegian mental institution (now the print offered in the Criterion Collection), Farrington informed me.

Rather than creating an homage, which would be tedious, Farrington began his Passion Project “with a fascination with a particular film, but basically I fell in love with the actress.” He then took on the daunting task of lifting his own rapturous experience into a shared one. He has looked at and experienced viscerally multiple aspects of this film, its subject, its vulnerable celluloid history and its palpable impact on the viewer.

Sampling as inspiration and device
Originally Farrington dedicated his efforts toward the process of sampling the original film and juxtaposing portions in ways it was not originally issued. In so doing Farrington used the collaged pieces much in the same way a Jack Chambers film such as Hart of London uses cinematic images in new editings, evoking far wider emotions than the originals might have. Juxtaposition is the key.

Past the screen
Dealing in what Farrington refers to as “the child-like desire to be inside a film,” something he feels we all have in coming, he wishes to get us past the screen’s surface. This artist wants to “give the audience that experience” of not being an actor, but being inserted into the rhythm of the film, not simply outside, viewing it passively.

During the development of the project the artist went through the original film enacting his “extracting exercises” of putting the film, scene by scene in different edits, paying particular attention to actress Falconetti cinematic takes, all in close up as per Dryer’s insistant vision of the this epic and historic story. Initially Farrington was planning that the audience would see the actress as the only cinematic image in whatever iteration he ended up putting forth, editing out the other original actors. But more artistic considerations came calling and more images from the original will be on stage in the production as it arrives at Pacific Theatre here in Vancouver.

About film as his inspiration: “I choose films that have very heavy emotional components. I want an audience to engage in a very physical way. That’s what theatre is for me.”

Digitizing and re-arranging images is clearly not enough for Farrington. He enjoys the physicality of the old movie machines and the celluloid itself, something the audience witnesses upon entering the theatre. While cherishing his experiences with the “texture that is appropriate in working with this film” Farrington “takes textures, what the film is about, what the characters are wearing, focusing on the history” and relishes re-coding them as textures for his own work. He salvages, recovers, re-uses, re-organizes, all in a bid to engage the audience into the process of the project. In all this he has isolated a directorial and set design method to involve the audience in the process of passion itself, the Passion of Joan of Arc and the passion inherent in a full expression of feeling.

Worth witnessing several times.

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