Wednesday, 4 November 2009
Article originally from The Pictures Zine #2
The term ‘psychodrama’ was often used in the 1940s to describe the films of Maya Deren – films in which a single protagonist travels through the film’s often surreal space as if in a dream, everything around them an extension of their consciousness, loaded with symbolism, weight and unsettling significance. While Deren’s ideas have been appropriated by everyone from student filmmakers to David Lynch, and have in themselves become a common (and often poorly thought out) part of film grammar, it is rare to find a modern day filmmaker who uses these techniques in such a pure, stripped down form and with such emotiveness that they feel fresh and moving and every bit as effective as a film by Maya Deren herself.
Alexandra Roxo has made two films in this vein – Out Of The Blue and The Heart Is What Remains. Both are exquisitely shot on Super-8, foregrounding all the grain and texture of film, and both are soundtracked by gorgeous minimal electronica. In both films a young woman finds herself in a picturesque graveyard and wanders in a state of captive trance, negotiating resonant obstacles and evocative traps in a bid for freedom. Horror is never far beneath the surface.
Out Of The Blue is the earlier of the two. Our heroine is bound to trees in a spider web as the blue filtered film throbs gently, slightly over exposed so that white creeps in from the edge of the frame. She frees herself and rushes, frantic, across the graveyard, stopping and weeping at the feet of an angelic statue. On the statue’s plinth she finds her prize, a pomegranite, which she takes, disrobing before biting into the fruit – an almost pastoral naturalism is a feature of both of Alexandra’s films to date. Red juice from the fruit’s flesh drips onto her body like blood and she rubs it, newly sexualised, wonder in her expression. The film begins to flash abstract and red, and our heroine has moved to another stage.
The Heart Is What Remains revisits some of the themes of Out Of The Blue, but with added depths and turns, and the addition of a lover to our heroine character. Both the film and characters are more mature. The story here is of a serious relationship, starting out in rich, warm colour. From a sleeping beauty kiss in a graveyard, the lovers begin to share their lives, bodies framed spooning nude. Dark imperfections creep in, the music becomes tense. The two sit opposite eachother at a table, bursting eggs with one hand and filling cups to overflowing with greasy yolk. Crockery is smashed. Our heroine drags a plastic bag from their house, her boyfriend’s body inside. Demonstrating Alexandra’s history in the theatre, the woman’s movements are specific and precise, nervous and almost choreographed, yet not quite in control - entranced. From here on she’s alone, cutting out his heart and taking it to the beach. In what might be a direct reference to Deren’s At Land, we see a closeup of her bare foot on the sand. She burns the heart, and others she’s collected. She walks slowly out to the panoramic sea which seagulls circle above.
The other definition of psychodrama, the psychiatrist’s term, is the use of roleplaying and immersive dramatism to resolve an issue, to reach a point of understanding. The amount of emotional investment in Alexandra’s films, and the complexities revealed by the most humble symbols, ensure that this is as true for the audience as the characters within and, you suspect, for the filmmaker. These are the most personal of films, all the more affecting for it, and well worthy of the best of the tradition.
THE PICTURES: What drew you to filmmaking and, particularly, to making films for yourself (as opposed to say working in a studio)? Were there any particular influences or inspirations?
ALEXANDRA: Having originally gone to school for acting, I decided after classical theatre studies that I wanted to create my own work. From there, I wrote two plays, “Reading Between The Lives: A Thousand Lonely Liberations” and “This Little Light Of Mine”, and directed one of them. As much as I love the theatre, I felt I needed to move into filmmaking because of its proximity to people and popular culture. Before picking up a motion picture camera, however, I decided I needed to work on photography for a few years. After developing a visual style, I spontaneously borrowed a Super 8 camera and went from there.
TP: Practically speaking, what’s your filmmaking process And once they’re finished, how do you go about putting them out there so an audience can see them?
AR: My films either start with a simple image or an idea and go from there. “Out Of The Blue” was completely spontaneous, and shot linearly with no editing. “The Heart Is What Remains” involved more preparation but no script. I had an idea and with the help of friends pulled it together. Since I shot the film I felt it essential that I storyboard for myself which was very helpful on set. On the feature I directed my process took a whole new direction as I was acting in almost every scene. Luckily for me, we had a monitor so I could play back the scenes. The only way I was able to handle acting and directing was due to the work that DP Magela Crosignani and myself had done as we spent a lot of time preparing before shooting the film so she knew exactly what I wanted.
I submit my films to carefully selected festivals and galleries which seem like they would be a good fit for my films. Festival submissions are very expensive and time consuming, so I‘ve had to pick the ones that suit my work the most.
TP: What do you like about working with Super 8? Would you ever consider video or another medium?
AR: I love working with Super 8. It has a texture and simplicity that allows a lot of spontaneity during shooting. I first picked up Super 8 because I knew it was user friendly and wouldn’t require an AC or anyone but myself. I had never worked with video until a month ago when I started shooting my first feature film. I would have loved to shoot it on film, but due to budget constraints I shot it on HD with film lenses, and I am quite pleased with the look. However, I look forward to the day I can make a feature film on film!
TP: The music in your films is lovely. Who makes it, and how important a part of film do you think music is?
AR: Up to this point the music in my films has been made by colleagues of mine. I am very fortunate to have many friends who are talented musically. The music in my film “Out Of The Blue” was made by my friend who goes by the name Poison Ring. He loops old tapes and records and comes up with the most amazing sounds. The music in “The Heart Is What Remains” was made by three different music projects: Dormant, Valet and Eluvium. All the music I use is an integral part of the film, the film and the music really become one unit in the end that I can’t separate.
TP: What are you working on next? Where would you hope to be in maybe 5 years time?
AR: Having just finished my first narrative film, a feature called “Mary Marie”, which I co-wrote, directed, and acted in, was a leap for me coming from more experimental work. In 5 years time I hope to have directed at least one or two other feature films that have shown around the world. I also enjoy working on my colleagues projects, and hope to have produced some of their films as well.