The truth and lies in film
This Friday marked the opening of Duncan Campbell’s exhibit as the 68th installment of the Carnegie Museum’s Forum series. The Irish artist creates video “portraits” of somewhat obscure figures in history using archival material and original footage. The exhibition, titled Duncan Campbell, displays three of his recent pieces — Bernadette, Make it New John, and Arbeit — which play sequentially on a timed rotation three times each day.
Upon entering, viewers’ eyes are tickled with the sudden sensation of darkness and an electricity in the air. There are four comfortable leather couches facing a large screen, an environment that tempts even the most avid and alert art viewer to sleep. This movie theater atmosphere sets the expectation for an exciting, flashy Hollywood show. The actual pieces, however, are quite different from most film experiences.
Make it New John, the most impressive of the three films, paints a portrait of the DMC-12 sports car produced by the DeLorean Motor Company in West Belfast, Ireland, and its creator John DeLorean. The vehicle, best known for its appearance in Back to the Future, is the star of the strange, fragmented film.
The piece begins with found footage representative of DeLorean’s troubled childhood and successful adolescence as a creator. However, without reading the pamphlets available at the door, this message is extremely difficult to understand when watching the film. The clips seem disoriented and strange, which is not helped by the abstract and disconnected audio, which at one point features the strange repeating whooping of a man for at least two minutes.
The film features both black and white and color clips, but all have the appearance of being aged. The found footage of the beginning slowly transitions into archival material detailing the rise and fall of DeLorean, his factory, and the factory workers. The film is a documentary in style, but has a slightly off feeling to it; instead of looking at a final project, the viewer flips through endless news channels all discussing the same topic. The end of the film is a scripted conversation between factory workers based on archival documents, images, and an unscripted conversation. However, the scene drags on for over 10 minutes.
The piece has redeeming qualities: The juxtaposition of the found film clips is fascinating and the largely forgotten story that is being told is intriguing.
“The one thing I did like about it was the instantaneous scene changes,” said first-year linguistics and French double major Edward Wojciechowski III. “But it was confusing a lot of the time.”
In fact, many viewers did not manage to sit through the entire 50-minute film, and did not stay for the other two films.
Campbell’s exhibit critiques the world of documentary film, an art privileged with being labeled as “the truth.” By involving his own hand so much in recounting his perspective of events with staged reenactments and distortion of time, Campbell twists the notion of truthful documentation. He walks a fine line between documentation and artistic liberty. While his intentions are thought-provoking, his work seems to have less of a spark by itself.