by James Hansen
If ever there were a work that, in the immortal words of one Missy Elliot, “put [its] thing down, flip it, and reverse it” (truly “tiesreverdnapilfnwodgnihttupi”) it might be Owen Land’s [George Landow] newest work Dialogues. The opening night work for the Migrating Forms Festival, currently taking place at Anthology Film Archives, Dialogues is a self-proclaimed parody of Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising and “concentrates on the events of Owen Land's life in 1985, when he returned to Los Angeles after spending a year in Tokyo, Fukuoka, and Okinawa, Japan. […] It was a time for much soul-searching about his relationships with women (and with strippers).” If Dialogues took place in 2003 rather than 1985, Missy Elliot undoubtedly would have been a part of the wide ranging soundtrack (as her repetitive lyrics, rhythms, and pitches would work in conjunction with those similarities in Land’s work) featuring period pop hits that instate the works’ cyclical structure feeding into other pieces from Anger, Deren, Brakhage, Snow, Rainer, Joyce, Voltaire, and Mutt and Jeff.
Dialogues does “Work It”, perhaps a bit too much at times, in order to become a fully immersive aggregate of allusions, illusions, and ugh-llusions. Using various vignettes/short scenes/short videos (take your pick of what to call them) Owen, God, and, more often than not, naked women have various dialogues on random subjects, typically shifting in time, space, and location depending upon the moment. And while it often feels a need to make its over-abundant referents a bit more clear, using character’s dialogue to call out any work it feels like mentioning, the melancholy editing technique and structures of sound vs. image (which require a second viewing for me to assuredly say anything) recalls, if anything, Hollis Frampton’s Critical Mass in the form of Plato’s Phaedo. (Quite perfectly, when scenes from Dialogues were shown in LA in March, Frampton’s work was shown prior).
By rotating the predominant sound or image (I noticed three varying structures: music overtakes dialogue, music and dialogue work on top of one another, intertitles replace spoken dialogue) Land challenges the effectiveness of the literal dialogue by highlighting the formal dialogic properties behind it. Although the repetition and never-ending material makes the draining 120 minutes overly sufficient for its purposes (the length only makes things irritating rather than artfully reinforcing much of anything) Land continues to show the playful humor, biting wit, and complex wordplay that recalls his classic work from the 60s and 70s. Dialogues often recalls a quotation from Yvonne Rainer about creating a new kind of narrative cinema (wish I had written it down...) and, if nothing else, Dialogues is a dedicated miasma of these principles, restructuring cinematic dialogue from the tits up.