Tuesday, February 18, 2014



Art Szombathy & Christina Kozak are Louis IV & Medusa in the British Museum

Ian Malone as Don Juan Ponce De Leon
One of the most remarkable things about COLD IRON IS A TITANIC COMEDY are the crisp, dense black and white tones used throughout. Each frame becomes a moving snapshot/performance still that stands on its own as a beautiful example of the creators eye for precIsion within a narrative that defies precise definition.

Director Wes Rickert has assembled an ensemble of superb performers who are able to master that timeless balancing  act between silent poses that add to a layered ensemble, as well as distinct solo performances that create both character and depth. Rickert plays freely and joyfully with loose historical narratives and classic performance art techniques that allow the spectator to follow a fantastical journey through iconic themes ranging from the discovery of America to the snaky tale of the famed Medusa. The erotic mingles with the commonplace and it all comes through with a superb, sharp edged parodic tone that is both playful and serious. 

Moments of watery pastoral imagery mingle with zany prop laden tableaus that seem to, perhaps unconsciously, tell the non linear story of how story can become cumbersome and unable to float when it adheres too closely to traditional narrative techniques. The central plotline/metaphor found in the title clues us in at the outset as we embark on a journey that is doomed to a rich, engaging form of glory and defeat. The original Titanic becomes the reiterative tale of a ship that sinks over and over again as story upon story surfaces, sinks, and re-surfaces - from the sentimentailzed Di Caprio/Winslett version to countless other artist's interpretations of that infamous chunk of cold iron that we just cannot seem to get enough of.

The choice of stark, black and white settings - finely set with a contained baroque-like atmosphere of evocative props and costumes - produces a kind of nostalgia for the present that moves us back and forth, in and out, of and through a present past and future that composes a tremendous sense of the here and the now. Set among the contemporary 'ruins' of  Kensginton Market, Little Italy, City Hall, and urban bicycle lanes, the complete mise en scene both floats gloriously and sinks beautifully into a breakneck array of sound and image. There is never a dull moment as this fun, sexy, surreal, thought provoking seventy minute tour de force floats seamlessly through a titillating and mind blowing consciousness of sight and sound.

Cold Iron Is A Titanic Comedy was shot, scored and produced in Toronto during 2013, with locations that include City Hall, Kensington Market, Little Italy and the city's bicycle lanes.  While not the basis of the film, they provide place and time references in a filmless film that is a timeless kabuki opera formed by poetry.  

Starting with a bird's eye view, multiple players come to the stage as fictional characters carving out their individual journeys.  Passages follow from landscapes painted with cinematic tracking to rolling waves in great lakes.  The players balance on one leg of fiction and another leg of art history.  Words fall from their mouths like water, beans and flowers.  In a room of grand pictures a kettle is an unplugged key, relating to the waves, to the sinking of a ship which claims to be a comedy in a language that is difficult to understand.  Constant is the unravelling and the dance in the room of reproductions where words are also pictures and this medium is our present consumption.

What does the Chinese script mean?

With all of the references to art history - the British museum, the nude, the portrait, the painter, the musician, ballet  - the empty shopping cart brings to mind the sculpture by American artist Duane Hanson of the life size hyper real woman entitled "The Supermarket Lady" (1969), a cart that overflows with objects of mass consumption.  But director Wesley Rickert offers an empty cart, drawing attention to an emptiness found in many of the vessels of this film; not an emptiness that leads to tragic despair but instead to a space that is big enough to begin again.
One of the anchors in this film is the character Don Juan Ponce De Leon (whose claim to fame was accidentally discovering Florida) played by Ian Malone.  Malone plays De Leon as the transient hippie, hipster, hitchhiker, man on the road, a beatnik poet headed for the beach.  He holds the records, the voices, as dead and dying vinyl in his hands.  And yet his presence is as important as the tea kettle, making connections to the vibrations of other objects and words in time and space.  Sound trippy?  The tea kettle interacts with the ballerina and Louis IV, connecting players who otherwise do not relate.  Is the connection significant?  Political?  Is the kettle connected to tea?  To the British museum?  To Medusa with whom Louis IV dances?  Who cuts off his head?  Are the American beaches connected to Chinese script?  Are there elements of chance poetry?  Are accidents the unravelling of history?  Is the electric kettle a symbol of revolution?

Two other anchors in this film are Louis IV, a pretended connoisseur of culture played by Art Szombathy, and Tally Aurora, a shape shifter who is also Medusa, a bird, and musician played by Christina Kozak.  Louis IV and Medusa interact with each other through their dance in the British Museum.  Louis IV looses his head to the cool and collected Medusa, who slices, cuts and edits the dead weight from his back.  Maybe it is a gesture of kindness or necessity, to remove what is no longer needed for art.

The film overflows with gestures and references to cutting ties with art history and art processes.  The
other characters make appearances as brief as hallucinations or fragments of a dream that appear and never return.  When faces do reappear, they are transformed and not always recognizable.  Moving inside, outside, from beach and lake to streets and bicycles, back to the operatic stage again.  Snapshots of people too distant to recognize, familiarity blurring with strangeness, a dream like consciousness merging with photographic memory.  The feeling of deja-vu.

When the Neoist Pied Piper, played by the real life leader of Neoism Istvan Kantor, arrives with his megaphone, the director brings us back to the stage, to remind us that this is clear cutting fiction, which is Rickert's platform for art making.  Through the megaphone Kantor's voice rings with the director's words:  "The hole is a schedule for difficult births".  Another key to what lies ahead.  Wide open spaces.  An audience of one.  Coincidental neoist dump trucks.  People, cars and bicycles.  A recycling of culture.  A wiping out of formula.
We are entering the what happens next era and the future looms big on the horizon as east meets west again.  There is an empty cart, great lakes and an ocean.  The audience must learn to sink or swim or emerge from the fresh waters of digital film making.  Philosophy and humour are the paddle, boat and compass of this fiction.

This kabuki opera film narrative is a surprisingly emotional off-beat comedy.  It embraces, squeezes and spits out multiple perspectives, offering no easy conclusions.

Istvan Kantor as the Neoist Pied Piper

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