A Movie, Experience, at one Remove
Globe and Mail
Saturday, June 14, 2003 (Page R16)
By Gary Michael Dault
Watching Blind Man's Bluff, the DVD that constitutes the heart of artist Andrew Wright's exhibition of the same name, now at Toronto's Peak Gallery, is a little like being at a party and having some tenacious fellow guest describe a film to you in endless, excruciatingly unstoppable detail.
For what you are faced with here is a wall-sized projection of an actor named Alan Sapp sitting in a chair in the artist's Kitchener, Ont., studio, watching what is purportedly a truly awful horror film called Blind Man's Bluff (also known as Cauldron of Blood) and telling us about it.
The film, made in 1967 but not released until 1971 (and once described as "sloth on the screen") was apparently one of Boris Karloff's last films. He plays a sculptor named Franz Badulescu, whose work consists of transposing "flat portraits to three-dimensional life," a feat accomplished by packing clay over figurative frames that are, in fact, "the bones of his wife's murder victims."
We never see the film, for which we probably ought to be grateful. What we do see and hear, however, is Alan Sapp -- who Wright refers to as The Describer -- watching the film and providing a moment-by-moment recounting of it (which he does by reading from Wright's carefully scripted summary). In addition, Wright has included the film's sounds (bits of dialogue, screams, gunshots, howling wind, and so forth) as an ongoing text projected like subtitles. So now we can both follow the story (lucky us!) and "hear" the film.
As Kitchener-based critic and curator Virginia Eichhorn has noted in a booklet accompanying the exhibition, Wright's resulting Blind Man's Bluff now offers a cinematic artifact "twice removed from the normal filmic experience. It is a reversal: The visual becomes auditory and the auditory becomes visual," an experience Eichhorn quite reasonably identifies as "a cinematic conundrum."
She also argues that submitting ourselves to the film via The Describer (shored up by the audio subtitles) "proves more effective and powerful an experience than watching the real film." Well, who knows? The "real film" is not available to us. But one sees her point. What Wright has done has given us all the trappings of the filmic experience, all of its elements, but in a radically deferred and wickedly displaced way. And actor Sapp's ongoing summary of the action, as Eichhorn points out, is amusingly evocative of the always weirdly fascinating "director's commentary" now available on most DVD films.
$200-$2,400. Until June 21, 23 Morrow Ave., Toronto; 416-537-8108.