Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Films of Tom Comerford / The Athena / October 2

Ladies and Gentleman, I give you Mr. Tom Comerford. Tom is an original jack-of-all-trades, master of -- well -- all. Trained in sculpture, performance, and the classics, Tom has embarked on an influential series of films depicting not only the landscape of our nation's past, but the steadily decaying landscape of the present. His work has been screened at such venues as the Ann Arbor Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, San Francisco Cinematheque, and the London Film Festival. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Tom travels with his band Kaspar Hauser and rocks the socks off of the Mid-West and Eastern United States.

At his screening at the Athena on October 2, 2010, Tom showed three of his films: Dèpart (2000), Land Marked Marguette (2005), and his latest masterpiece, The Indian Boundary Line (2010).

Initially, I had no clue what to expect. All I knew was that I was surrounded by School of Film TA’s and note-takers. When the lights turned off and the first film began, a blind man could probably smell the anticipation seeping through my pores. The first film, Dèpart, was shot on a homemade pinhole camera at a train station in Iowa City, Iowa. Accompanied by screeching static and a distorted French narration by a man recalling life on the tracks. It was reminiscent of the Lumiere Brothers and their 1895 masterpiece L'Arrivée d'un Train en Gare de la Ciotat, or simply Train Leaving the Station. Watching that film showed me that Comerford was the real deal. The next two films came on a jet-pack fueled by irony. Their focus was basically how much of American civilization has discarded the vast history of our Native American roots (sorry Pocahontas) in the form of spray paint, plastic, and cement.

Just a couple scenes worth mentioning: In one comedic scene, Tom and a couple of friends dress up in dollar store Halloween department quality Jesuit regalia and retrace the same route down the Chicago Portage that Marquette and Louis Jolliet canoed in 1673. Except in Comerford’s addition, the “settlers” are discovering not a world of newfound beauty and nature, but one of stagnate water and large, run-down, graffiti-covered buildings. One must think: Is our past so far behind us that it can’t be reenacted without hearing a roar of laughter from the audience? Tom’s answer is yes. There are constant scenes of the future, and how it is suffocating our past like Lou Ferrigno suffocates, well, anything he puts his hands on.

The other was a scene of a young child playing on a playground that lies on what used to be the Indian Boundary Line (now Rogers Avenue). Sure, watching a cute little guy explore a big new world is entertaining, but there was a much deeper message. The point is that we children of the future are born into a world that we know nothing about. We did not help create it, explore it, or institutionalize it. We are simply, here. So living today is similar to a child's playing in a playground. We wander around aimlessly, curiously, and neglectfully. There are traces of our nation's landscape, but they lie in the hands of graffiti-ridden informational signs and plastic beaches of garbage.

-Samuel Sloma, Staff Writer

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