Art Scatter is on the road, but some things you can appreciate long-distance. Such as Scatter friend Charles Deemer‘s new micro-movie Deconstructing Sally, which the Portland playwright/novelist/essayist/teacher finished a few days ago, shooting it on a Flip minicam and spicing it up with a terrific soundtrack of mostly ’60s songs.
It’s 30 minutes long, and you can watch it here, in three parts. Charles subtitles it Reflections on Memory and Hallucination, and calls it “a fictional memoir about sex and identity in the 1960s.”
Deemer has long played around with the fuzzy border between fiction and reality. Most writers do; he’s just more open than most about it. And this, he insists, is fiction: Some of the things in the movie really happened, some of them didn’t. Which is which isn’t all that important.
Deconstructing Sally is about his (or the narrator’s) long relationship with the woman he thought was the love of his life, until she came out as a lesbian. However much of her is “real,” she’s been a fruitful muse: She also shows up in Deemer’s play The Half-Life Conspiracy and his novel Kerouac’s Scroll.
The idea of short, relatively inexpensive-to-make films online (but longer and more narrative than the stuff on YouTube) is surely going to explode, even if it’s tough at this point to see how you make money doing it. Sort of like blogging. There are stories everywhere, and people are itching to tell them. Sure, a lot of the stories are inarticulate. But many others are well-told — professional in every sense but economics. And a format like this encourages smart, original thinking, which in Deemer’s case is coupled with long experience in the practical skills of storytelling. Deconstructing Sally has voice: It’s is a good example of how skillful and individualistic democratic filmmaking can be.
This isn’t the first time Deemer’s tackled a new way of doing traditional things. He’s a pioneer of hyperdrama, a kind of exploded form of theater: Think of it as a two-dimensional drawing transformed into a popup book. His hyperdrama version of Chekhov’s The Seagull expands the story by imagining what happens when the characters move offstage and into the wings. That process takes up three-fourths of Deemer’s version; the other quarter is the play as Chekhov wrote it.
There is passion in Deconstructing Sally (Deemer self-administers an R rating) but with an attempt at a long vision. The film, which is tightly edited visually, is carried by the narration, which looks back after many years, trying to put into perspective something that was extremely intense.
This is very much a visual short story, told by a “hero” (I use quotes because the storyteller speaks ruefully of himself and his own missteps in life) with a distinct point of view and a desire to bring the clarity of understanding to the muddle of emotion. At the film’s beginning Charles quotes T.S. Eliot from Tradition and the Individual Talent:
“Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.”
Does Deemer escape? There’s a flareup or two of possibly still raw emotion here. We learn a lot about the narrator and a little about the mythic Sally and a little more about the difficulties in ever truly knowing another person, let alone ourselves.
But it’s time to look back on the 1960s with a clear observant eye, shucking the myth and trying to figure out what the times meant personally, politically, and culturally. A made-up 1960s gets in the way: newly minted AARP members revel in thir rearranged memories of high times; right-wing demagogues exploit the period for its fear factor: This is where America went wrong. Somewhere between is an amazing variety of actualities, waiting to be reconsidered. Deconstructing Sally is one of those reconsiderations. Give it a look.