Emily Riopelle reviews Konrad Steiner

EMU student Emily Riopelle reviews Konrad Steiner’s recent appearance at the Dreamland Theater:

Speaking to the Movies

By Emily Riopelle

Konrad Steiner’s presentation at the Dreamland Theater was wonderfully varied and engaging. Steiner presented a collection that demonstrated his range of work including short, abstract films, films in combination with poetry, and his most recent venture: Neo-Benshi. Neo-Benshi is a great example of hybridity in the writing and art world. Steiner not only incorporates literary hybridity by writing his own works and also appropriating from outside sources, but presents a media hybridity as well.

Neo-Benshi can be approached in many different ways, as Steiner detailed after the event. This is part of its appeal to the poetry community. The concept is to take a film clip and write narration or dialogue to be performed in conjunction with it in front of a live audience. The idea dates back to the beginning of movies and was most prevalent in Japan, where narrators spoke with American movies in order to explain the content and context of the Western silent films.

About 15 years ago, Steiner had the idea of bringing the form into the San Francisco poetry world and since has produced several performances with many poets who had many different approaches. The different approaches to the medium range from completely overhauling dialogue and acting as a ventriloquist, choosing a non-dialogue scene and adding disembodied narration, or completely forgoing the movie clip form and turning a clip into, say, an infomercial (as some poets did with an Indiana Jones film).

At the Dreamland Theater, Steiner himself performed his narration to scenes from recent films, Minority Report, and Blade Runner, as well as two scenes with Carla Harryman in conjunction with older Italian films. Steiner’s solitary performances seemed more congruent and connected with the images from the film. In his Minority Report clip, he quoted the Tibetan book of the dead, and also incorporated dialogue for the characters. This clip was also unique in that he carefully edited the footage to incorporate cultural logos and icons as well as news footage covering the Iraq war.

Steiner stated that within this medium his goal is to “not bully, but finesse latent meaning,” from the films.  The Blade Runner clip was more lyrical, and less politically driven. He edited together four different versions of the same scene and narrated with a piece he had written. The piece he read with Carla seemed at the end of the spectrum, only slightly related to the images on the screen. The two read together, slightly overlapping at times and it seemed the film served more as a background and supplement to their poem than anything else.

After the performance, Steiner went into detail about the range of options available within the medium, from pulling meaning from the clip, to creating a subversive text meant to challenge the way we watch a well known film, to juxtaposing a lyrical text over an unfamiliar image. Each of the approaches contains different goals and implications and Steiner encouraged the audience to play with the medium, and “take back the movies,” ourselves.