Films like “Fairytales From Ohio” are called “personal” for a reason: the filmmaker is the only one who can understand the damn thing. In this obtuse, monotonous short, director Sarah Skapin has assembled nine brief (alas, not brief enough) scenes of her life as a Midwestern suburbanite.
Roughly half of the scenes consist of handheld video shots out of a moving car, as pithy stories and exchanges like the ones you find filling space at the ends of “Reader’s Digest” articles spell themselves out slowly, letter by letter, across the screen. Accompanying these scenes are three or four bars of soft acoustic pop-rock that loop again and again like a broken record until the scene ends.
The rest of the scenes employ similar devices of repetition and time-play. In one, we watch Skapin blow-dry her hair for several minutes. The footage is reversed and repeated a dozen or so times as Skapin drones on in voiceover. In another scene, the same kind of video manipulation is used as we are treated to an extreme close-up of her vagina as she moves around a small pile of shiny pebbles on the floor in front of it.
Obviously, Skapin isn’t very shy about her body, though she does seem afraid to show her face on camera. Even though we see her body (back and front, thanks to a mirror) in the hair-drying scene, she has set up the camera to crop out her face. In still another scene Skapin lies in bed under a comforter, apparently asleep, half of her face barely visible in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. She wakes, swings her legs off the bed toward the camera, and slides out from under the blanket, revealing the fact that she’s not wearing any clothes.
Of course, nothing in this short is as lascivious as it sounds. In the bed scene, Skapin fades the shot to white before it becomes lewd. At other times, Skapin’s self-imposed nudity is out-of-focus or merely hinted at. Skapin’s most illuminating monologue, in which she recounts a night of drinking and sex, is played over a bright cartoon image of a fairytale castle. The fact that Skapin has the bubbly voice and meandering syntax of a twelve-year-old girl (despite actually being 26, she claims) makes these scenes even more unnerving.
If it weren’t for how disquieting that juxtaposition is, Skapin’s slow-paced, repetitive video collage, with its frequent use and reuse of soothing, pacifying music, just might be used to help lull babies (and adults) to gentle slumber. As if acknowledging the best use for her film, Skapin decided to place “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” over the cartoon castle scene, just in case not everyone in the audience had yet nodded off.