Experiments In Film: I, An Actresss (1977)

One of the reasons I made it a mission of mine to focus on more films that are experimental this year is that when discussing what makes an experimental film, the options are endless.  This is certainly the case with George Kuchar's experimental short I, An Actress, which appears, at first, to be nothing more than a screen test for a scene from a film.  This, however, would be a very simplistic reading off a brilliant piece of film and would result in complete disregard for one of the key elements of experimental filmmaking: narrative.  What Kuchar does with I, An Actress is focus on reality as his state of study, however, unlike a documentary Kuchar is using his power as a director to directly influence the subject, in this case a young Barbara Lapsey, into becoming agitated and confused by her job.  This pestering and interference with the actor leads Lapsey to question Kuchar's decisions, flub lines and even laugh and mumble incoherently in a state of awkwardness.  Kuchar through refusing to edit his filming of a single scene is able to demystify the almost mythological attachment to movie stars that had existed up to that point.  I, An Actress shows that when placed under inescapable scrutiny, in the film the constant presence of a rolling camera, an actor becomes fallible and human.  The regression to human makes the short film's name all the more pertinent.

The second factor of this short film shares its approach to creating narrative with its full-length predecessor Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, a 1968 "documentary" by William Greeves.  In Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, Greeves claims to be filming a scene for a film, when, in actuality, he is filming the filming of this scene and leaves the crew and cast up to their own devices.  This approach leads to direct confrontation with Greeves as well as subplots of rebellion amongst the crew, as well as interference from a variety of passerby's who want to be part of the film.  It is brilliant in its execution, because while it seems as though it is completely random, one of the crew members reminds viewers that the entire film could be staged and there would be no way to verify its validity.  It is a masterful exercise in postmodern filmmaking.  I, An Actress is somewhat different in that Kuchar is expressly concerned with interfering with the filmmaking process and subsequently destroying his actress's ability to perform.  Through making her gyrate, moan and overact Kuchar manages to ruin Lapsey's sense of control of the scene so much that he gets her to admit that she cannot do the scene correctly, a death wish for any aspiring performer.  However, as is the case with Symbiopsychotaxiplasm we will never know if the scene is entirely staged or if it is in fact reality being portrayed.  For this reason alone, I, An Actress is a magnificent piece of experimental film.

For more information on George Kuchar or to watch I, An Actress click on the images below:

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