Showing at Gimpel Fils Gallery, London until the 11th October 2014 M-F 10 – 5.30, Sat 11 – 4pm
The film is a visual performance to an eleven minute section of the soundtrack of Spielberg’s 2005 War of the Worlds, starting 22 minutes in when the war is underway. This is made in a domestic setting in a Tel Aviv suburb by various means: short scenes are acted out in a playful way with the use of domestic tools and everyday objects as plausible sound makers used by foley artist impersonators; children and adults lip sync to the moments of dramatic dialogue and action; the main interior room used is the kitchen. Inserted into this is a restrained use of theatrical props, mainly a rubber severed hand, and short snippets of news footage of war in Israel. The Spielberg sound design, mixed with the music composed by John Williams, is of course high-end and this contrasts, sometimes to comic effect, with the make-do quality of some of the props used to mis-represent the causes of these sounds. To rise to the challenge of the ‘War of the Worlds’ action a lot of things are smashed up including a basketball that crashes through a real window. Alarm clocks, hoovers, blenders, gas flames, spillages and domestic accidents appear to contribute their sounds. Who knows, some of these things may have actually been used by the Hollywood foley artists who are famous for their inventive use of everyday objects.
The film is very affecting after the recent Israeli offensive but was in fact made at the time of the previous somewhat smaller scale conflict in 2012. The lightness of the playful action makes us feel the relation between our domestic lives and its comforts and the violence that is inflicted in other parts of the world. Perhaps it is not necessarily as a result of the production of domestic commodities but it is certainly a product of capitalism as a whole. We benefit whilst others suffer. This is all conveyed with frying eggs, children’s balloons, toddlers plastic trikes and the other paraphernalia of family life.
It gives a new meaning to the common trope used in US feature films in which the all-American family is beset by aliens trying to threaten their dream lifestyle. In this video the trope is reversed and the war appears to emanate directly from the family. People are seen as active agents, even the children are swept-up in playing with the violent sound effects rather than simply being subjected to its illusion. The key point is I think play. Play suggest an approach that produces new ways of thinking. Somehow this collage seemed a more empowering way to engage with the Palestinian Israeli conflict than seeing the endless TV footage, which I have watched recently with head in hands. It also sets it in a more global context.
“Whose attacking us?” yells one Ben-Ner’s 12 year old son. Later: “It’s come from some place else!”; “Where? Europe?”; “No! Robbie, not Europe”.
It is also of course about cinematic illusion and how meaning can be subverted. It allows us a distance on the Hollywood sound track, we hear it as constructed, unreal and made up. It relates to the history of appropriation in art and film which is mainly the collage or re-editing of the visual elements as in Scratch video a British movement of the early ’80s. (George Barber being one of the most well known). Although in experimental film the use of ‘found footage’ goes back, at least, to Bruce Conner’s ‘A MOVIE’ in 1958. Of course films have been made to fit existing music tracks and again Conner produced a notable example in 1961 (Cosmic Ray to Ray Charles recording of “What’d I Say”). But has any artist appropriated a substantial section of a single movie soundtrack before? Not that it matters, but leave comment if you know of one.
I guess it could be seen as a joke about family conflict but we are diverted from this interpretation by the use of the newsreel footage. I thought that the phoney foley and the fun lip-syncing provided an kind of instruction manual of what we should all be doing in our homes and neighbourhoods to deconstruct the Hollywood feature films that assail us. Don’t just sit and consume the films, act them out and remake them. The artist, who was lounging outside the gallery at the largely empty opening at Gimpels, said he wasn’t going to make another one reusing a movie soundtrack. The idea was done for him – the process completed. But I think this process could be productively emulated. OK, maybe not as minutely and carefully constructed or as imaginatively prepared (each few seconds of the soundtrack had its carefully designed visual analogue), nor as dramatically poignant, but still it would be a good way of people critically engaging with film media.
His other work that includes a film made in IKEA’s domestic sets, shot without permission (Stealing Beauty – 2007) is always made with his family as the protagonists. The work can be found on Ubu Web.
A soundtrack of ‘War of the Worlds’ by John Williams was released by Decca in 2005.
Stills from video used courtesy gimpel fils