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.

Emily Riopelle reviews Dodie Bellamy

Emily Riopelle reviews Dodie Bellamy’s recent BathHouse Reading:

Whistle While You Dodie

by Emily Riopelle

Dodie Bellamy’s voice matched the dry monotone one I’d imagined for her in my head. Hearing her work live gives it a whole new dimension. The crass and ironic words she uses, the blunt honesty with which she writes, is magnified by the flatness of her tone. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Dodie’s work has a tendency to veer between reading like a gossip column and a porn novel, but the skill with which she weaves these elements into well written and concise prose is unmatched. At the reading she shared her piece, “Whistle While You Dixie,” written for an art show in which a group of women whistled theme songs for “sexist” movies such as Rocky. She seemed to begin her writing process by writing down her feelings and associations with whistling. It seemed she easily conjured both strong emotions about whistling and whistle-related vivid memories. In the first section she pondered the lack of whistling in two video clips: “Whistle While You Work,” from Disney’s Snow White and “You Ain’t Just Whistling Dixie” by the Bellamy Brothers. She took the opportunity to point out the overt sexual innuendo she discovered in the Snow White clip, thinking about how “whistle while you work” means make the most of your drudgery. Most of us will never watch Snow White the same way again. She pointed out the sexual and racial oppression present in the Bellamy lyrics and that “whistle dixie” means to not take something seriously. She imagined that perhaps both songs lack actual whistling because the singers have cast a certain spell over their listeners, whether to help clean the kitchen, or to ignore certain social issues, the sharp squeal of a whistle would snap the listeners out of complacency (or at least that’s the theory).

Dodie went on to a more memoir driven second half of the chapbook, recounting a time when she hitchhiked across the country with a boy tentatively named Greg and a young man driving a pick-up she named “Teen.” The connection to the whistling is tenuous at best, but still, Dodie’s story was captivating.

Dodie’s writing resists genre and categorization. She was trained in poetry, not narrative, but her writing tends toward an exciting hybrid of personal memoir and essay most of the time. Though some readers may find Dodie’s overt sexuality icky, her blunt honesty tends toward endearing. She’s honest about how she felt as she laid beside that truck driver boy, wanting his “boy meat,” but not at the same time (or at least she’s good at feigning honesty). And her vulnerability is what really pulls you in. At times, her writing feels like a personal journal, something very intimate. You feel like you are trespassing, violating her somehow by reading it, but that forbidden allure is precisely why you go on.