TIFF Review: You Are Here
Here is an experiment. Take the name of six colours, write them in random order several times using a coloured pen that does not match the name of the colour. Time yourself reading this list of colours. Write the same list of colours using only black ink and time yourself reading the list. The mind works is strange ways, and has trouble if preconceived associations to familiar things or objects get too close to one another. Daniel Cockburn, a Toronto video artist has just made a wild and crazy jump into features with a film-slash-brain-experiment that wants to perform a witty and colourful brain massage. He wants to play with your cerebellum in the same way that the perception of film works: ‘Persistence of Vision’ as shutters push single frames to form the illusion of movement. We will ignore the contradiction that he mainly shoots on video. Contradictions are what the film is about.
Cockburn wants to expand your consciousness or provide the illusion of expanding your consciousness or expand your consciousness while providing the illusion that he has not. You Are Here. The statement is both a location as well as a confirmation of existence. Different things, really. The red dot that defines your location on the map can be just as much of a misleader as a guide. The meaning of the film goes beyond the dual-nature of the title into something that is both profound and a profoundly funny. It is science. It is art. It is absurd and hilarious sleight-of-hand. It is an ultra lo-fi version of Inception in which the filmmakers might as well be Leonardo Di Caprio and company (in shabbier clothing mind-you) and the audience are simultaneously the beneficiary of planted ideas and the mark of a baffling grift. The TIFF catalogue labels the film as Dr. Seuss meets Samuel Beckett, and I cannot really argue with that. It is an apt a description as you are going to get without telling you much. When it ended after an all too brief 75 minutes, I was upset. I wanted to see how many more times the filmmakers could fold their narrative in upon itself while keeping me in its spell. Riding the wave, before it collapsed. Like any good performer, Cockburn knows to keep the audience wanting more. Or they ran out of money, drugs or the ability to keep a hold of the reigns. I am sure the director will never tell.
There is no way to spoil You Are Here, because I am not even sure what I have seen. The film keeps the big picture just out of reach by playing out with the rhythms of a hypnotist. A hypnotist that somnambulizes with the quiet and disarming chant of ‘wake-up, do not get hypnotized.’ An experimental film with no plot per se, it does feature Tracey Wright (in one of her final performances) as some sort of information archivist that collects lost documents around the city and explicitly files them in her room full of shelves. In a nondescript room, a man fills out paperwork in the surrogate act of language comprehension. He admits that he *literally* has no idea what he is talking about, continuing with his gargantuan and mysterious task because it is possible (if rather unwieldy) to follow the dozen or so 10cm thick gold-embossed red volumes of step-by-step and cross-referenced instructions because more anonymous sheets will surely be slipped under the door and provide some sort of continued purpose. In yet another room, a cluster of desk clerks direct people all over town in cabs and attempt ensure that the passengers remain in motion without meeting with one another. The movement is recorded with precision. There are other mini-narratives including a man with a cyborg-eye and an instructor who really, really loves his laser pointer. The image of a red spot or dot makes more appearances than the all the hat imagery in the Coen’s Miller’s Crossing, both films feature a love of language and a delight in double-crossing machination. I want to believe that the film is telling me something about perception, but it also may encompass propaganda and political theory, perhaps a little string theory in there for good measure. It is a heck of a lot more fun than Scientific American or NPR though.
It is easier to describe the state-of-mind the viewer is in while watching the movie, rather than the movie itself. The experience of watching You Are Here is felt for me like trying to simultaneously read open books by Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Malcolm Gladwell, and Noam Chomsky while watching a bank of TVs showing Marx Brothers and Roy Andersson films on loop. The film may not look like much, bit it is a mind altering work of staggering genius. If you have gotten this far into this rambling and repetitive review, you have been given the palest of the pale imitations of what the film is like. Oh, and You Are Here. Welcome. Alas, the number of people that will take joy in this sort of grotty yet earnest intellectual pranksterism is small enough that you might have to find this video in the same passed along by hand fashion as the evil video tape in Ringu was passed around. Maybe with equally dire consequences.