Thursday, October 23, 2008

Inverting A Classic

by James Hansen

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 ends up being (for better or, if you agree with Montgomery and myself, 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 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 on writing about this with some more specific analysis in the future, but I have a word limit writing for The Film Experience this week, so this is all you get for now! I am, however, posting it here before it goes up there tomorrow morning. That's true dedication for you all! And, in case I have provoked you and you are in the Chicago area, Deliver will show at the Chicago Underground Film Festival next weekend. I'm randomly in Chicago next weekend and may revisit this if I can find the time. See you there?


Tony Dayoub said...

Sounds like a fascinating film. I hadn't heard of it.

Are you aware if it will be making it down to Atlanta?

James Hansen said...

I'm not sure if it is heading to Atlanta or not, as of now. I'd be a little surprised if it never makes it down there to the Art Institute though. I'll keep my eyes and ears open for info and I'll be sure to let you know if I hear anything.

Thanks for the comment!

haohao said...

Sounds like a fascinating film. I hadn't heard of it.