Thursday 9 April 2020

Pattern recognition: "The Grand Bizarre"

One quirk of the current shutdown is that critics have been professionally obliged to consider fewer titles, but a far greater range of material than they might once have done: with those middlebrow dramas that make up the arthouse's bread-and-butter suddenly out of the picture, the contrast between, say, Trolls World Tour (streaming from tomorrow) and the week's more marginal releases appears newly stark. (The weekly roster may have been thinned out, but it's fallen unexpectedly in line with the French release schedules, which never lack for artful odds and sods.) Last week, MUBI UK showcased Nona..., a Chilean hybrid that wasn't at all this viewer's cup of tea, but which self-isolating cinephiles may have been tempted to take a punt on; this week, the platform is highlighting Jodie Mack's The Grand Bizarre, which - at just an hour long - wouldn't have come within touching distance of a theatrical release and the coverage that comes with that. As its punning title indicates, the business of this zappy pop-art curio is material itself: it bombards the viewer with highly colourful fragments and offcuts of fabric, sourced here, there and everywhere, and deftly stitched (by Mack herself, in what is very much a one-woman show) into a jittery audiovisual tapestry that variously recalls the animations of Len Lye, Godfrey Reggio's stoner-classic Koyaanisqatsi, and the projections at every other illegal rave of the early 1990s.

Plastic globes bouncing across the frame and passing inserts of shipping containers might suggest Mack is keen to press a few sociopolitical observations upon us: that similar patterns recur in the East and the West, possibly, or that these fabrics have been sewn with such evident skill it's a pity their makers are paid peanuts. The film also invites approach, however, as a molten blast of eye-popping stimuli, setting radically diverse shades, textures and animated ribbontails loose to an eccentric score (repetitious beats, esoteric, Art of Noise-like samples) which is itself of a piece with Mack's manic, mix-and-match editing. There's an extent to which the film seems to be recreating the experience of those flickbooks that allow the reader to dress and redress various characters, albeit at a speed that reflects the hyperaccelerated rate at which the planet now turns. Every image poses a question: how does this look? And now? And now? For a while, I wondered whether the appeal might wear off, even at an hour's duration. But no: Mack finds new juxtapositions, new horizons, taking her samples on a train, then a ship, generally alighting at some novel way of illustrating those points where the material world and the world of materials intersect. The closing stretch is a hypnotic flicker, topped by one of the year's most unexpected - therefore funniest - punchlines. (Some of these fabrics must have been... dusty.) Unlike Nona - which required contextualising information its maker wasn't prepared to give - The Grand Bizarre clearly hails from the experimental cinema's accessible and playful wing: you could even set it before housebound children, who are likely to be mesmerised by its colours and shapes, and - if you're not careful in its immediate aftermath - running amok with scissors, hacking great swatches out of the contents of your wardrobe.

The Grand Bizarre is now streaming on MUBI UK.

No comments:

Post a Comment