Thursday, October 23, 2008

Inverting A Classic

by James Hansen @ Out 1 Film Journal

Ever since Ed Halter ever so briefly mentioned the video in his 2007 Year in Experimental Film article for The Village Voice, I have been looking forward to Jennifer Montgomery’s Deliver, an all-female video “remake” (really an inversion) of Deliverance. Although Deliverance was popularized by the classic 1972 film, Montgomery makes it clear that it is not the film, but the book that is her main source of inspiration.

My guess is the near sell out at Deliver’s world premiere at BAM had more to do with John Boorman’s Deliverance (the film) than with James Dickey’s Deliverance (the book), not that it matters all that much. However, the people expecting a Hollywood-esque estrogen driven remake of Deliverance were likely disappointed and will continue to be as Deliver makes the small rounds to other experimental film venues across the country. Deliver is deeply problematic, just as it is meant to be. But, if you ask me, it is fascinating, frustrating, and thrilling, in its own distanced way, all at once.

Montgomery, a terrific, award winning video artist, (her recent work Notes on the Death of Kodachrome (1990-2006) was shown at the 2008 Whitney Biennial) is obviously not interested in the action aspects that dominate Deliverance and make it what it ends up being (for better or, if you agree with Montgomery, worse.) Deliver is undeniably more interested in social construction and the overriding forces that shape historical identities. Despite being shot in high def video (Montgomery’s prior work has very predominantly been shot on Super 8), it has the same personal extension and feeling that has been a highlight of her past work. It is ripe with contradictions and paradoxes, particularly in the pivotal rape scene, which will dominate any discussion of the video.

While plenty of people will undoubtedly strike Deliver down for various choices that it makes (assuming people unfamiliar with Montgomery will stick with it once they realize this is not a Hollywood action remake), each choice adds to the video’s identity and manage to confound pretty much every issue that Dickey’s novel and Boorman’s film proposes. In attempting to reconstruct and question the cultural history of a classic literary and filmic text, not to mention gender, homosexuality, and sexual violence, Montgomery forces Deliver to confront a lot of major issues in a short amount of time. That it feels like a totally completed work-in-progress goes to show the ever-contracting depths to which Montgomery’s art, highlighted in Deliver, reaches.

I plan to think about this more and post a deeper, more specific analysis at Out 1 sometime in the future. Just want to mention that, while I have the chance, in case anyone out there is super interested.



i'm curious ... and i bet other readers are too about how much fans of the film would get from this on a strictly compare and contrast level ---not too be reductive of what else it's trying to accomplish.

but the original film is so well known --and certainly ripe for deconstructions and angled interpretations

James Hansen said...

To be honest, I haven't see DELIVERANCE in so long its hard for me to come up with too much. If you look at it from Hollywood standards, this is certainly the "poor woman's remake" although I think it is that for a very specific reason. From notes on the website and whatnot, Montgomery apparently follows the source very closely. I can only take that at its word since my memories of DELIVERANCE are weak at best. Sorry I can't be a little more sharp in this area.

I found out that this is showing again when I am in Chicago so I may try and revisit it and I'll certainly watch DELIVERANCE again before that so that I have some more things to say. I think if you look for a compare/conrast angle, it's hard not to notice the distanced approach and mundanity of the action (although the famous waterfall scene is well done, thanks to some nice editing, as it is on a much smaller set of falls.) I know thats not specific to the narrative, but that's what I drew from it based on my murky memories of the original film.

James Hansen said...

Since I failed to mention this in the piece, one of the main compare/contrast shifts comes in that the main women are all academics and/or expeirmental filmmakers playing mirages of themselves. They continue to use the guns and bows/arrows which is odd to see coming from the different gender.

The Q&A session spent a lot of time on the rape scene and how unsympathetic it is. No one really even comforts the victim (played by Montgomery) and they go straight into a discussion about the implications and problems with convincing anyone that the rape took place. Montgomery said, unrealistic and morally wrong as the unsympathy is, it is in line with Dickey's book. At the same time, there is no "squeal like a piggy" and it is shot from a distance to make it devoid of the action that the original was insistent upon creating.

See! I just had to think for a couple minutes and BAM! A couple examples. I just have to learn to think before I type comments...or something...

Brian Darr said...

Sounds absolutely fascinating! I had not heard of this reinterpretation.