New Interview

From: TIE (email suppressed)
Date: Wed Feb 06 2008 - 01:46:03 PST

Dear Frameworkers,

TIE's elecectronic e-mail updates are going to include more extensive e-magazine content occasionally. Look forward to interviews with curators and filmmakers, along with photos and coverage of events. An occassional beautiful and printed color magazine is in the works as well.

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TIE Team

Here is part of an interview that will be included in the next TIE e-magazine:

I don’t know: A Conversation with Jesse Kennedy about Language, Body, and Horror

by Rachel Cole
Jesse Kennedy, maker of My Mess, which debuted at TIE, La Exposición Internacional de Cine Experimental in Montevideo, Uruguay last year, is perhaps best described as a writer with a camera that “looks like a gun.” Originally from Santa Fe, New Mexico and currently a writing student at Naropa University in Boulder, Kennedy’s creative influences range from local legend, Stan Brakhage to his fiction professor, Bhanu Kapil, from dead French guys who philosophized about pornography to actual pornography. The three-minute long Super-8 movie, is savage and jittery, depicting anonymous hands jotting sentences that seem suspiciously intended for a former partner or otherwise estranged loved one. Gory imagery (including a mangled rabbit head) is tempered by a tenderness that arises from the uncompromising (even if, tormented) sincerity of the language. The perspective of the camera brings the viewer uncomfortably close to the hands, but withholds the satisfaction of being !
 privy to the suggested events. Sound is unnecessary: the emotional charge of the piece is blaring. This unrelenting process of incongruity, the clash of image and text, pasting together the pieces of a narrative that add up only to greater tension, is shattering. If a writer could teach us how to read in a film, and a camera could be used to shoot in the most visceral sense, then Kennedy with his Super 8 camera and diverse medley of intellectual interests is ferociously, sensually, and innovatively redefining how we portray and experience the emotive blows of a story.

Q: Why Super 8 film? It seems to lend a private, personal home-movie quality. But there’s also the texture of a snuff film or porn to the piece.

JK: Super 8 is practical and accessible for me. My interest in filmmaking is also diaristic and it’s convenient for that…I like the texture of it, the 70’s home-movie or porno look, the grainy aspect. And the camera also looks like a gun.

Q: The film seems to be a collision of written and cinematic narrative. Given that you’re also a writer, what is your take on narrativity and how stories are told through image and language?

JK: As a writer I am interested in the way that a piece can sort of cave-in on itself and still be interesting, the point when the writing appears as its own end, where the story fails but the motivation to write remains. Filming sentences allows you to see them as material things and interrupts their transparency.

Q: The first thing we see in the film are the words, I don’t know in red ink. How is this film engaging in knowledge, negation, and singularity?

JK: Well, I think it’s concerned with the things we can and cannot say to each other, the adequacy of the words at our disposal, our tendency to speak in generalities. It is also concerned with how a sentence without a lot of weight or real meaning to it like I care about you or I don’t care about you can be totally devastating. Especially in so far as the meaning or context might not be clear, it’s concerned with knowing in that sense…and the constant desire to retract what’s been said, or to clarify.

Q: This seems to be a film that asks us to read it as much as view it. The camera lens lingers on certain words, shakes, then moves again, words get scribbled out. What is this process of erasure and scribbling-out that happens?

JK: It’s definitely concerned with the inability to find the right words for an intense emotion on the one hand, and the way in which the words we do chose can become more unbearable in themselves than the initial motivation for their use on the other. The I don’t know is maybe an indication of this position and foreshadows the eventual erasure of what was said.

Q: The piece is completely devoid of landscape. The clues we have to where it takes place imply only a gray interior. Is the question of displacement at work in the film?

JK: I was interested in the space where writing physically happens, which is a restricted space usually and maybe it suggests the lack of space where writing itself is, as Blanchot writes about it, as the outside, a place where we cannot be.

Q: Is this exploration into the places we can’t be as artists, also engaged in the theme of solitude?

JK: Yeah, kind of. When I was filming it, there was actually someone in the next room who didn’t know that I was there.

Q: The imagery of the film seems to reveal the beauty of the grotesque and there’s even a playfulness involved with the band-aid and fake blood. Is humor a part of violence for you?

JK: There’s usually an element of humor in a lot of art that is grotesque…a natural response to things that aren’t easy to handle, a way to deal with something difficult. Black humor is a way of living as well, to not be so serious with certain things.


Q: What were some of the decisions you made about the object world of the film? The rabbit head, the band-aid, and blood?

JK: The band-aid looks kind of corny, and it’s a leftover image from another project that was inspired by 80’s horror movies. I thought it was interesting juxtaposed alongside the head of the rabbit and the actual blood, as the blood beneath the bandage is too orange and calls into question the reality of the rest. You also mentioned there was something playful about it, and the combination of the playful with the grotesque definitely captures the mood it came out of. As far as the grotesque itself, Jean Genet said “to escape horror, bury yourself in it,” and I think there is something to that advice.

Q: The decapitated rabbit head in particular evokes the sense of a horror movie. But it also makes me consider the solitude of thinking itself, being trapped inside one’s own thoughts and emotions.

JK: The rabbit head, insofar as how it relates to the writing itself…there was a definite feeling for me about the rabbit head. I had it in my fridge for so long, it was a gift and I wanted to do something with it. But it’s strange to see it there in the film…like a grotesque fetish or something. That’s also the idea of putting the band-aid in the piece as something kind of softer. It cushions the ugly, grisly aspects of the rabbit head. Maybe this isn’t all real, why is the band-aid on a piece of paper? And it brings out the relationship of skin to a writing surface.

Q: Which perhaps implies that writing is a bodily activity?

JK: Yeah, you see that with the hands as well. When you read something you don’t see it being written, the way that it’s an expression of the body.


Q: How is this film dealing with body?

JK: Jacques Lacan talks about how a symptom of a nervous illness can be a word trapped in the body. Language always is in a relationship to bodies, which it codifies, and structures, we get spoken. To write also takes energy and involves the consumption of materials...I’m interested in this physicality involved with the apparently immaterial.

Q: The violence of the imagery maybe suggests that we are viewing the aftermath of a catastrophic event, but no explanations are given about what might have happened. How is disaster involved in the questions of writing, image, and body?

JK: Again that sense of isolating the elements from what actually happened and positing the disaster and looking at it for itself and feeling the strength of it. When disasters actually happen they become much more than the things that caused them. If there is a sense of humor to it, the sense of hysteria is there too.

Q: What happens in the disaster and hysteria of a word being trapped in the body?

JK: I’m interested in the stuff of the body. There’s not a whole body, there’s the blood, part of the animal, physical elements that suggest a body, and the words and how they make contact with it. Like the pretext for the movie, that you have a very strong emotion that it’s hard to find words for or a means of expression for and everything becomes an expression for that emotion and gets compromised by words. A lot of art that I like is informed by that same thing. There’s an obsession or strong emotional context that leaves an impression or a shell, like a phantasm that leaves this impression of a feeling.

Q: I am reminded of a quote from the essay, “Signature Event Context” by Jacques Derrida, which begins, “What does communication communicate?” The person writing seems to be writing to someone, but it seems more about his own solitude, and of course, nothing is ever given to an “other” person. If words are trapped, how is communication at work in the film?

JK: The film began as a writing project, I was making a list of things that had been difficult for me to say to other people, or that other people had said to me that I found difficult to hear. I wanted to make a space for some of those sentences where they were not compromised by the presence of their recipient or the person who was writing them. In order for a conventional conversation to take place between two individuals there has to be an agreement on the meaning of the terms used, but what’s disturbing about phrases like these, as I mentioned earlier, is their ambiguity, and I wanted to enhance that.

Q: How is personal experience related to this film? Do you believe that the creation and viewing of art inherently asks us to make ourselves vulnerable by exposing, or at least, gaining inspiration from personal experience?

JK: I think personal experience is directly involved for most artists. Vulnerability maybe less so, I think a lot of artists have in some way found a way out of their vulnerability though art. The film is a record for me of a difficult time in my life, and it’s difficult to watch with others in that I am made to think of it and to see a part of it. But then, what was a problem for me is in some ways really absent from the film. It’s certainly suggested in some ways but at the same time it stays hidden so I don’t actually feel that exposed by it, and it added an impersonal quality to events that makes them more bearable.

Q: How did you find a way out of vulnerability as a filmmaker?

JK: In watching it. I experienced my own vulnerability…the emotions behind it and feeling them again. I see something very specific that no one else sees but as something neutralized in a film, especially by watching it with other people there.

Q: Given that you draw, paint, and read philosophy, what are your various influences?

JK: A lot of French literature, especially the writers Pierre Klossowski, Georges Bataille, and Maurice Blanchot. Dennis Cooper’s writing. 80’s horror films, pornography. Modernism, Feminism, Surrealism, Postmodernism. The New Mexico landscape, clay animation, Industrial, Noise, and experimental music, Bill Henson’s photography. The films of Stan Brakhage, Albert Sackl, Luther Price and others associated with TIE, Pasolini, Entomology.

Q: Any plans for your next film?

JK: I have plans for one about a boy who gets turned into a Nintendo system, but I haven’t been able to find a guy who will let me film him with a game controller cord stuck in his butt.

TIE, The International Experimental Cinema Exposition
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