Friday, August 26, 2011

Spotlight: Miranda July

Some people think she’s too precious. Some think she’s a poser. Some think she’s just insane. I think she’s the real thing. Now, she may be a bit crazy, but where’s the harm in that? Dictators and artists should both be a little nuts. It makes them unpredictable which is a real asset in both professions. (Dictating is a profession, right? What would you do if your kid said they wanted to be a dictator when they grew up? Or was that you who said that to your deeply befuddled Great Aunt?) If you haven’t heard of Miranda, you should check out her work:  website here . Make sure you use the right’ password.

I haven’t even seen it yet, but she’s just recently released her second feature film, The Future. And you should see it in the theatres ASAP if 1) You ever want to see it on the big screen and 2) If you want any other non-traditional feature films to ever be shown in theatres again. Because if Miranda can’t bring out an audience they won’t take a chance on anyone else like her in the future. (Get it?) It’s only made $333,997 in it’s first weekend and it needs to make $4,000,000 to break even and pay back it’s investors.* Is it any good? Well, it’s narrated by a dying cat (voiced by July) named “Paw Paw”. So how could that suck? Interestingly Box Office Mojo has an breakdown where 60% of audiences have given it and “A” “ and 30%  an “F”. Little in between. At least people feel strongly about her work.  
Here are the showtimes and locations for around the entire country.

I heard about Miranda back when she was doing solo performance art at 
PICA in Portland 11 years ago. (Go to their performance festival “TBA: Time Based Art” starting in two weeks if you live nearby.) Back then I was checking out places that might book me and as I followed  Rinde Eckert’s tour spots I came across this awkward, peculiar girl who made videos of her shoes talking to each other with voiceovers. To my amazement she’d been featured at the Whitney Biennial. I didn’t know how she’d gotten such attention, but I thought her work was fragile, quirky, consciously naïve and sweetly amusing. I didn’t quite understand why her work was in art galleries, but I guessed it was considered in the Laurie Anderson tradition who’d also done her early performances in galleries in the 70s. I couldn’t quite relate as I was a theatre cat myself even though people who’re at a loss for how to describe my work call it ‘performance art’.

And now a rant: My work is NOT PERFUCKINGFORMANCE ART. It’s theatre. Tying yourself to your lover with a rope for a year and not telling anyone why is performance art. Shooting yourself in the arm with a real bullet in front of an audience when you have HIV is performance art. I make shows. I tell stories. I sing songs. Just because it’s sometimes in a context you haven’t seen before or uses a new combination of tricks in an aesthetic you’re unfamiliar with doesn’t make it fucking performance art! I do New Performance. Usually Music Theatre. Sometimes Solo Performance. You can call it avant garde if you want to scare everyone off from going. Or you can just tell people “It’s So Fucking Cool, I can’t even describe it to you. Just go see it.” If you want to help a guy out. Assuming I do a show once again sometime in the future.

Anyway, I’ve performed a few times in Contemporary Art Institutes (actually just in Boston…twice. Go figure), but it always feels like I’m in the wrong place. Maybe smaller cities need the support from some place that has its own venue like a like a contemporary museum since small cities have so few venues who support alternative performance. 

Boston really only has Mobius and Portland I guess doesn’t even have that. Heck in LA we only really have Highways and more recently RedCat. And almost no one goes to those places. Heck most people have never even heard of RedCat even though it’s directly beneath Disney Hall and has almost a thousand Banners on light poles around the city.

Regardless, I wrote Miranda an email 10 years ago (when she had her personal email easily avail able on the net) saying I’d love to connect with her. She was cute and more successful than me, so I thought, who knows? She never wrote back.  A few years later, someone at
Sundance heard about her, invited her to the Writer’s Lab. She’d never really thought of making a feature film before then. But Sundance decided she was the thing, so they pushed her. After that lab, they invited her to the Director’s Lab, introduced her to young producer (Gina Kwon), gave her a mentor (whom she then had a serious relationship with), set them in front of investors with the Sundance imprimatur and next thing she knew, she was making a 500K HD feature Me and You and Everyone We Know.  (Watch instantly on Netflix).

That film made a shocking 8 million dollars at the box office (half domestic, half foreign). (Watch the trailer here) It was shocking not only because she was an unknown with an unknown cast starring in her first feature film as well as writing and directing it, but because the story, while not ‘avant garde’ in my mind, was untraditional enough to scare off most investors and distributors as well as baffle publicists in how best to characterize her work. Oh, she also won the Cannes Film Festival 2005 Camera d'Or. And she invented the filthy yet profound ‘emoticon’: ))<>((

Buy the shirt here
  to find out what it stands for, but you have to watch the movie to really get what it means.

The LA Weekly rightly described her as “A wide-eyed space child with a pale, pre-Raphaelite quality.” And while few people have seen her perform anything but her own screenplays or  read her poetry,
I had the pleasure of seeing her read from Spalding Gray’s published and unknown work, performed live in “Stories Left To Tell” when it came to UCLA in 2007. She mouthed Spalding’s words well. Jonathan Ames did too. I would have well if someone had asked me too, but it seems they lost my phone number with all that I’ve moved around. I spoke with her briefly after the show and she carried herself exactly as she does on screen: like a doe of a being confused to have to puppet master her twiggy human female frame.

Now  go read a lovely short story of hers right here.
And decide what you think of her for yourself.
* Why does it need to make 4million at the Box office? if you count its production budget (1 mil.) and P&A (Prints & Advertising) which I’m guessing is another 1 mil. You'd think they just need 2 million, but theatres will take on average 50% of ticket purchases. So they actually need 4 mil. Of course, they can make more money through ancillary rights like DVDs, OnDemand and IFC or HBO, but you won’t see this on too many airplanes or broadcast TV.

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