Hand-tinting frees these miniatures of noxious meaning.
Accept some distance so expression can arrive and depart.

- "The Visit", Robert Glück

Zoe Beloff's

is named for its opening sequence: a circa-1960 elementary school performance of an allegorical play in which Anyboy and Anygirl are introduced to personified emotions and character traits such as "Lying" and "Generous," and decide which they'd like to take home.

"Pushy" was the sexiest one;
"Love" forgot her lines.

This extended piece of found footage is followed by a careful but not obviously narrative arrangement of elements such as a cinéma vérité treatment of a girls school cafeteria, some amateur porn (one simple display clip, one masturbation clip), color-saturated staged melodrama (including a sickening orgy of color-saturated cake), audio samples from Curse of the Cat People, and clips from found footage of a birthday party (girls are requested to open presents, girls are requested to dance gracefully, girls are requested to sing along with Alan Sherman...).

Hello mutter, hello fodder

At times, the overwrought yet distanced technique comes close to an Andy Warhol production of "Kids Say the Darnedest Things"; at other times one might think of George Kuchar or, travelling to the more overtly sublime end of the scale, Stan Brakhage's home movie experiments. But responses to Beloff's work tend to be far less detached than those comparisons (or the audience's somewhat hysterical laughter) might suggest. For myself, I didn't react as I had reacted to Nico onscreen in "Chelsea Girls", but more

Do as I see, not as I do

as Nico had reacted to her unknown offscreen: tears pouring reliably as Morton salt, leading later that night to the question: "How did your contacts stay in?" And my reply: "I had actually been having problems getting them out. I hope I didn't make a spectacle of myself."

Tragedies loosen contacts


this effect? Given Beloff's hilarious and antipersonal artifice,


an emotional response so immediate and extreme that it seems it could only result from painfully direct communication with a hypersensitive telepath?

Found footage lets us re-experience childhood in a far truer way than our own family's home movies


since memories of their viewing are more immediate than memories of their making.
Artists who specialize in "children's art" value children for their "openness", but the only thing children are especially open to is parroting.


It's how they survive. Their assertions of power are shockingly direct; their hypocrisies as shamelessly blatant as the down jackets needed to survive a midwestern winter. Children must make spectacles of themselves


because children are meant to be seen.
Beginning with the elementary school play, Beloff shows how adult manipulation of children trains children to develop the self-manipulation skills which define maturity: the individuality which is the isolating basis of society. Ending with grotesquely mugging responses to Alan Sherman's self-contemptuous calls, Beloff shows that impulses to and expressions of "revolt" are just as strictly determined as polite smiles, dancing, and blowing out candles while making a strictly determined wish:

"I don't think I would like to live with Lying."

All consciousness is founded on an originary self-consciousness. The subject constructs itself first (and last and always) as the object of the imagined gaze. Even the voyeur only truly gets off through consciousness of spying; the fiction of porn is that the barrier between observer and observed can be opened to advance the plot.

It was the first distinct word which came to me through the door.
- Alexander Trocchi

It's no coincidence that film, the form best suited to depict and thereby encourage voyeurism is also the form best suited to show "mechanism metamorphosed into thought".
At some point in the childish "why why why" of introspection, we must stop unmasking or be faced with a blank. This might be formulated as the following semiotic principle:

In any investigation of motive, speakers tend to explain until they reach their level of incoherence.

Depending on circumstances, we may call this bottoming-out point either "honesty" or "bad acting," but for all practical purposes, the two terms are synonymous. One most easily finds such failures in the despised genres of children's theater, melodrama, pornography, and low comedy: precisely the ingredients of Beloff's work.
Without Beloff's elaborate distancing, the familiar heat of sincere performance would drown out her insights into sincerity and performance -- insights which have given me more pleasure than any other film this year.




Text and postcard photographs inspired by "A Trip to the Land of Knowledge", a film by Zoe Berloff. Copyright 1996 Ray Davis