Sunday, November 9, 2014

P.3: The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music

The Propeller Group's film, The Living Need Light, And The Dead Need Music was perfect for All Saints Day. A dreamily surreal reprise of Vietnamese funeral rites, the traditional Vietnamese proverb that is its title suggests commonalities with New Orleans. But how similar can such a distant place possibly be? Set in Saigon and made by the Vietnam and Los Angeles-based Propeller Group, The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music does in fact reveals startling similarities. For instance, in the film a Vietnamese woman who happens to be dead (top) periodically reappears making pithy, poetic comments, presumably reflecting the Vietnamese belief that the recently dead are actually still with us, they're just going through some changes. But if that sounds odd, consider the way the embalmed bodies of local luminaries Mickey Easterling or Lionel Batiste were propped up at their own funerals, seemingly greeting their guests. Although the film's magic realist style can make it hard to tell fact from fiction, much the same might be said of New Orleans lifestyles. Even so, the folks in this film are no pikers when it comes to funeral spectacles, enlivening wakes with not just food and music but also, in the more extreme cases, sword swallowers, snake handlers and fire eaters incinerating stacks of paper money with their breath.

Another parallel is the way mourning is interwoven with partying, but the similarities become mind boggling as the band in the funeral procession plays bouncy tunes while wearing uniforms that resemble our local jazz funeral Onward or Olympia brass band attire. (A brief web search revealed that some Vietnamese funeral bands really do dress that way.) In the film they're seen parading through swamps to cemeteries with raised tombs, another deja-vu touch. What gives? The artists cite the "nonlocality" theory of quantum physics whereby some things can become "entangled" at the particle level and resemble other things across space and time, an idea even Einstein found "spooky." Maybe that explains why Vietnamese food is a "local" specialty, while illustrating P.3's underlying theme that no matter how different others may seem, most of us are really very much the same inside. Meanwhile, Christopher Meyers' adjacent sculptures--multiple marching band horns fused into surreal hybrid concoctions--provide iconic expressions of "entanglement."

Prospect.3: The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music, a film by the Propeller Group with Sculpture Exhibition by Christopher Myers, Through Jan. 25, UNO St. Claude Gallery, 2429 St. Claude Ave., 280-6493