Issue #200
A Party To End All Parties November 9, 2012

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Project Space: Kelly Sears

I make animations out of appropriated photos, films and graphics. I think of these images as devices to open up larger cultural histories and narratives. One recent film, Once It Started It Could Not End Otherwise, began when I picked up a high school yearbook from 1974 in a thrift store. As I flipped through the pages, I noticed that the students looked intensely on edge in the candid photos. When I’m working on a piece, I delve into a lot of amateur pursuits–media archeologist, science fiction wordsmith, cultural anthropologist, and psychoanalyst. I take in a lot of films and writing to help inform the psychic ballast of the images I’m working with. Looking at the material through these different perspectives helps me figure out what other kinds of stories could surround these images. What follows is a bibliography of some texts I looked at while making this film.

Charles Burns, Black Hole, New York: Pantheon, 2008.

A surreal comic book collection, set in the mid 1970s featuring high school students that contract a virus that results in physical mutations and spreads among teenagers. It reads like cinema, with graphic transitions between scenes, incredible attention to lighting, and intimate point of view framing. The virus can read as other sexually transmitted viruses in our recent history but also a metaphor of the alienation and anxiety of adolescence.

Jeffery Eugenides, Virgin Suicides, New York: Bloomsbury, 2002.

Disaster befalls five teenage daughters from a conservative family in 1970s suburban Michigan. The story is narrated from the present day by a male, who as a child, had lived across the street from the girls. He looks back at the tragic events and tries to piece together a sense of what happened.

Tom Wolfe, “The Me Decade.” New York Magazine. August 23, 1976.

If the counter culture of the late 1960s could be generalized by a collective sensibility, the 1970s could be said to have shaped the identity of the individual. Tom Wolfe’s 1976, The Me Decade is a look at the small steps we took as we retreated from community and realigned ourselves with personal fulfillment.

Francis Wheen, Strange Days Indeed: The Golden Age of Paranoia, New York: PublicAffairs, 2010.

A tour de force of tales about paranoid leaders on the verge of breakdowns, with extreme anxiety about not only the enemies out there, but also the enemies within their own administration. This book creates a great psychic mapping of this decade and is a nice companion for the surge of psychological conspiracy thrillers from this time.

Parallax View, dir. Alan J. Pakula, Double Day, 1974.

A reporter goes undercover at the Parallax Corporation – An evil organization that manufactures assassins that are used to manipulate American politics. This film contains an epic montage scene that a serves as the Parallax Corporation’s tests for future assassins. A sequence of images start out depiction of a normative and idealized male psyche and slowly descends to a place where the sense of self is more and more destabilized.

The Conversation, dir. Francis Coppola, Paramount Pictures, 1974.

Paranoid surveillance detective Harry Caul, is hired to spy on a couple he believes may be murdered, and in the process, uncovers an even more sinister plot. Caul becomes obsessed that he is being bugged as well and it starts his downfall as the watcher may be the one who is watched.

All the President’s Men, dir. Alan J. Pakula, Warner Brothers, 1976.

Based on Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s 1974 book about their investigation of the Watergate Scandal, this film renders the story soaked in conspiracy and implies there is more covered up than meets the eye. These and other investigative journalist uncover wiretapping and election headquarters plots hatched by the Nixon officials. As Deep Throat says, “Follow the money.” Pakula also addresses the anxiety of this era, with another film, from 1971 titled Klute, which became the first installment of his “paranoia trilogy.”

Three Days of the Condor, dir. Sydney Pollack, Paramount Pictures, 1975.

A CIA research office is taken out in a mass-assassination. One researcher, code name Condor, escapes the attack because he was out of the office picking up lunch. There’s a plot within the CIA, to control information at any length, even killing their own team. Condor hopes to expose the story through the press to the American people.

Once It Started It Could Not End Otherwise, dir. Kelly Sears, 2011. 

I was drawn to the freaked out looking photos I found in the yearbooks and the images began to function as surrogates for me to project my political and cultural concerns onto. Looking at this anxiety through a temporal distance helped me think about how our own cultural history and legacy is manifesting today.

Kelly Sears is an animator and filmmaker living in Houston, TX. She received a B.A. from Hampshire College and an M.F.A. from the University of California, San Diego.

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