SHORT VIDEOS OF ELIZABETH HALL

THE FAT GUY AND THE PINK HOUSE  trt: 1 minute  (2002)
A brief video haiku of scenes from the beach. Swimmers, a pink house, lightning, a sudden downpour, the shadow cast by feet at the day’s end, are all edited together in a quirky rhythm in which some cuts are so fast they create a ‘flicker’ effect. The sound of rain, waves, a foghorn, and playful voices is likewise cut in an unpredictable rhythm, which does not follow the rhythm of the images. The colors are saturated, like those of a ‘Greetings from Miami’ postcard. The effect is of a brief entry in a video diary in which the quirky, disjunctive experience of spending time among American tourists is translated into a very abstract way of editing very concrete images.

SUBVERSION  trt: 1 minute  (2002)
A male voice chants a series of variations on the word “subversion” while a female voice makes rhythmic nonsense sounds. Later these sounds are heard backwards and faster. The word “subversion” remains center screen throughout (“sub” is pink while “version” is green, later this is reversed), while various images of boats and swimmers are distorted in a slow ‘wave’ pattern in the background. According to Hall’s notes, these background images represent an 1839 slave uprising, but there is no way I would have known this by watching the video.

Breaking the title into sub/version reminded me that everything in this video has another version of itself, running underneath it and undermining it. The male voice is undermined by the female voice, both of them are supplanted by the backwards version, and the word “subversion” is subverted by the images. Besides the fact that both the sound and the images are quirky and appealing on their own, this extremely short video contains quite a few things to observe and to think about.

BUNNIES, GUNS AND DUCKS: AN OPTICAL  50 seconds  (2002)
Inside the outline of a duck’s head we see guys practicing at a shooting gallery, followed by a shot of an American flag. The soundtrack consists of gunshots.

Hall’s notes say that the outline shape is an optical illusion, which can either be seen as a duck or a bunny, but I could only see the duck. I can almost never see what I’m supposed to see in optical illusions. The quick juxtaposition of the shooting gallery and the flag seemed to make a generic comment on the prevalence of guns and violence in our culture. This is one of Hall’s videos that I found so compressed in form, and the intellectual content so sketchily realized in the sounds and images, that I found myself unable to have any reaction to it whatsoever.

SNOW WHITE WALK  trt: 10 minutes  music by Mathew Winer  (1996)
Hall is seen, in an Elizabethan dress, walking across fields of snow, through the woods, and crossing streams. These images are accompanied by Mathew Winer’s lovely Japanese flute music. Interspersed are Masterpiece Theater style scenes of Hall as a narrator in a wood-paneled room, where she discourses on fairy tales, while making mildly satirical comments about popular culture. (She notes that Snow White’s stepmother is able to follow her because “stalking laws hadn’t been enacted yet,” and she compares Snow White’s glass casket to a Barbie doll in a plastic blister pack.)

The outdoor shots are lushly and beautifully photographed. The gorgeous dress, which Hall wears, is quite cumbersome for walking through the woods; she has to constantly raise and manipulate it. Jumping over a tiny brook becomes a major undertaking. This is part of the point; clothes from that period were designed to discourage women from going out of the house. Nothing like a good pair of jeans and hiking boots!

The lulling visual style of the ‘narrator’ sections is reminiscent of an ancient TV series in which Shirley Temple sat in front of a fire and read fairy tales to children. But Hall deliberately disrupts this cozy texture with bursts of white light, which separate each edit point.

Hall’s rereading of the story of Snow White as representing a world, like the world of television, where the right cosmetics can get a girl out of any scrape, pokes gentle fun at both television and fairy tales. The beauty of the outdoor images gives the viewer new respect for any woman who will pull up her fancy skirts and venture out alone into the woods.

UN CONT  music by Billy Paul Williams  trt: 5 minutes  (2002)
Various shots of Hall as a fairy tale queen in an elaborate gown, walking through snow-covered fields and across bridges, occasionally encountering a fairy tale prince. The voiceover text is a somewhat abstract deconstruction of fairy tale fragments, often repeating variations on the words “There once was an evil queen who looked just like me, and I became her. I was a Bitch.” Billy Paul Williams’ music combines sound reminiscent of Scottish bagpipes and of Tibeten monks.

The film footage in this piece is beautifully shot. Long, wide vistas show Hall in her gorgeous dress, surrounded by mist rising off of the snow. The images are skillfully edited to evoke fairy tales without actually telling a story. The music helps sustain the fairy tale ambience. In the text, the traditional roles of the “evil queen” and the “bitch” are reimagined by Hall as powerful women who control their own destinies. Eschewing didacticism, the abstract nature of the text makes these points by relying upon an ironic relation to the music and images. Essentially a ‘remix’ of the footage used for Hall’s longer film “Snow White Walk,” this film has a similar goal: a feminist subversion of the fairy tale. Even though “Un Cont” is half the length of the other film, for me, its playfulness and the abstraction of the text help to make the same points in an even stronger way.

One technical flaw unfortunately mars this piece: most of the video footage is processed to make it look more like film, and this dreamy softness fits in beautifully with the piece’s mood. Several brief close-up shots mixed into the film however do not have this same processing, and they suddenly have a flat ‘video’ look, which is utterly jarring to the overall tone.

DELICATE CUTTINGS  3 minutes  (2002)
Two women prepare for a photo shoot in which one of them will appear in an impossibly tight Victorian black corset, with a purple tulle skirt. The soundtrack consists of the two women discussing the shoot as well as discussing the digital video camera on a tripod, which is recording them. The images, from the stationary camera, are fast-forwarded, compressing the time it takes to get her into the dress. The typical blocky, pixelated artifacts that one sees when fast-forwarding digital videotapes are seen throughout.

Because the camera was mainly left to run by itself, Hall’s main editing decisions consist of how much she fast-forwards the video, and at what points. Within this subtle, low-tech framework, Hall demonstrates that she has an excellent eye for selecting images and a feel for an effective editing rhythm. This video presents two women who are manipulating and using traditional female imagery for their own purposes. They discuss how the idea of a woman’s body represented by the corset is impossible and unrealistic. They may be utilizing a male image of femininity, but they are in control. They control the lighting, the props, the costume, and the technology. At the end of the video, the woman who owns the camera says “I’m recording over the free lance job that I did. I’m taping over his material. It’s being destroyed forever.” This is a great encapsulation of the video’s vision of women taking control of the technology of images.

A final, silent section of the video shows the model, now in a white bridal gown, against a white background. She is still arranging her dress for the photo shoot, occasionally helped by the other woman. Multiple images of her are superimposed on each other, inside of differently shaped rectangles. The white-on-white visual scheme almost obscures the edges of the rectangles, which are then revealed by the woman’s movements. Video glitches and digital noise also occasionally define the near-invisible edges. The images are arranged like a Renaissance triptych, or a triple mirror. This abstract study reveals Hall’s visual literacy and sensitivity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *