Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Art Film: A Post-Truth Pinocchio In Venice

That title. We can't decide if it's ironic or tautological, nevertheless, Pinocchio - known the world over for his lies and the biggest tell on the planet - is having a revival, of sorts.

While Pinocchio has been associated with (almost) every President in the US (in fact, someone could probably create a book of Pinocchio POTUS', there have been so many images made with the telling long nose), our current era is more concerned in associating Pinocchio with fake news, specifically, fake news originating from the office of the Presidency (whether POTUS himself or his staff and entourage). With all the 'alternative facts' and 'post-truths' still constantly barraging the news and media, Pinocchio is fast becoming the poster boy for US politics (no matter which 'side' you take) and he, President of Fake News Pinocchio is cropping up more and more in writing, cartoons and contemporary works of art and film.

One of the most recent appearances is in a festival film, titled "Spite Your Face: A Dark Venetian Fairytale", by artist and filmmaker Rachel Maclean, where alt-Pinocchio is essentially displayed in a de-consecrated church in Venice, for the 57th Venice Biennale, a unique contest, "like the Eurovision song contest for art. People represent their countries." 

Fittingly, the film was created in a large, portrait format -something unusual, even for art films, and the constant impression that you're looking at a portrait, reinforces the sense of Pinocchio's importance - to himself and to those watching.

We've assembled a partial synopsis by combining two sources (both cited after their extracts):
Spite Your Face, transforms the 19th century Italian tale of a wooden puppet who wants to be a real boy into a dark and disturbing satire of the era of celebrity, fake news and reality television... and Maclean plays all the characters herself, (aided by) costumes elaborate costumes and the help of prosthetic designer Kristyan Mallett, who has worked on the Harry Potter movie franchise.
The film tells the rags to riches story of an urchin called Pic. His life is transformed when he is catapulted into "The World Above", a consumer heaven where money equals power. (BBC News)
Pic (full name Pinocchio Gepetto) is a street kid in a grey, hopeless world. He makes a wish on an iPad in the Other World Offerings temple – a digital recreation of the Chiesa di Santa Caterina – and finds himself transported by the blessing of a fairy godmother / Virgin Mary figure to a golden heaven where (through the application of a perfume named Truth) he is able to become a gilded hero punting rubbish perfume (named Untruth) to the masses. 
Standing atop a golden plinth, Pic rants and raves to an adoring crowd. "Smell that? This place used to smell great. Now it stinks. The facts aren't known because the media don't report them." (TheSkinny - we recommend reading their whole article)
As the face of a perfume brand called Untruth, Pic becomes a rich and famous media personality, and a political demagogue, at the expense of his ethics and happiness. 
... "I was interested in how lies had played out in the Brexit campaign and the Trump campaign. Journalism exposed the lies but that didn't affect the outcome. I was interested in how democracy works. We are less rational than we like to think we are and driven by belief systems." (said Maclean - BBC News again) 
Venice is a city that still exudes luxury. Things glint and glitter, look expensive, of high status, and that adds to the setting of Pic, aka, alt-Pinocchio's journey. Perhaps the fact that it was written 'in situ' helped capture that.

The Herald (Scotland) got a preview of the film, and additional comments by Maclean are so very relevant, we had to include an excerpt to give readers a better idea of why this film has caught so many people's attention:
The Herald had a preview of the film - which also features song, satire, special effects and parody - and afterwards Ms Maclean said of the disturbing assault scene: "I've been disturbed and troubled by the recent rise and confidence in misogyny, the rise in anti-feminism, and reactionary attitudes to feminism, and that coupled with a feeling that we are immune, as a culture, to violence against women in images and the exploitation of women, images of women's bodies used to sell perfume or cars, and it is so ingrained we are not shocked by it anymore. I wanted the film to feel jarring, to make it uncomfortable and difficult to watch, and didn't want it so sit at that level of immunity." 
The film does not directly make reference to either Trump or Brexit, but the artist said: "I was processing a lot of the sense of how these lazy lies that were used through the Brexit campaign and the Trump campaign, and that didn't effect the result. 
"I got interested in how difficult it is to penetrate a narrative that has gained political currency, and how easy it is to use lies to substantiate ideas that already have currency. 
"The rags-to-riches tale is so much in our culture, you see it in things such as Britain's Got Talent...I was inspired by how compassion-less those [rags to riches] narratives are, and generate a lack of compassion for other people's suffering."
And so Pinocchio meets Cinderella - and neither look good because of it.

We became even more interested in how this film came to be, knowing it had its genesis well before Trump campaigned or before Brexit rose its head. We found that fairy tales were always a part of her exploration but things evolved quite differently when finishing writing it at the end of 2017.

From TheArtNewspaper:
...Maclean anticipated (the film) might be an extension of her earlier films and photographs exploring fantastical, fairy-tale and clichéd images of Scottish identity, The Lion and the Unicorn and I ♥ Scotland. Presciently, the latter, made in 2013, included a Donald Trump-like figure. Back then he was merely symbolic of corporate greed—a golf-club wielding, saltire-faced, frightwig-sporting ogre, enacted, like all the figures in her work, by Maclean herself.  
But in early December, Maclean visited Venice and her ideas shifted: Spite Your Face (2017), her film for the Biennale, has a wider political target. “Because I went to Venice for about a week or so to write a script for it, and it was shortly after Brexit and shortly after the American election, I was quite interested in this political landscape and the rise of nationalism and the ‘alt-right’ and something that was larger than specifically Scottish nationalism,” she says.  
...Does her Trump-like character reappear? “It’s more allusive,” she replies. “You can pick up on certain things or certain tropes in political characters, but I didn’t want there to be somebody who, for example, directly referenced Trump or directly referenced a recognisable political figure. I wanted the characters to feel a little bit more like an amalgam of different characters and different ideas.

And so they do. But they can't help but mirror the most obvious public examples either, and the images - both the public one of Trump and, in the film, Pic, are such strong ones, it takes a while to see the other characters woven in, characters like Cinderella, Jack and the Ugly Duckling and perhaps a Midas who has yet to learn his lesson.

The show will be on display in Venice from 13 May-26 November then will be shown at Talbot Rice Gallery at the University of Edinburgh from March 2018 and at Chapter, Cardiff from Oct 2018.


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