Janie Geiser's Fantastic Films

Geiser Ghost Algebra

Fantastic: that's one word for Janie Geiser's collection of exquisite new short films, grouped together as the Nervous Films Series. I don't mean simply that they're great (although they are!) but instead that they take you into the realm of the uncanny, the marvelous and the in-between. Watching them, you fall into a semi-conscious state, between waking and slumber, with images and stories that flutter, blink and slip away. In short, they transport you into the fantastic.

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Geiser Ghost AlgebraIn Ghost Algebra, a woman seems to journey through multiple layers of consciousness, exploring at once the body and the world, both of which are in some disarray. The film's materials are toy figurines, paper ephemera, illustrations, film snippets, shadows, and cut-out collage elements, all of it layered together, often in quickly cut fragments that recur, then fade quickly to black. The sound design, mixing the busy clucking of birds, a woman's voice singing, crackling, old music, children's laughter and shouts, all helps in some ways to tell the story, but it's a story that lurks just on the edge of consciousness.

Geiser RickyIn Ricky, the sound includes a father speaking to his son, but from a distance, and in the midst of images of war, sparking a sense of melancholic loss, all of it wrapped in images that, again, slip away before they can be understood concretely.

With these new films, four of which will screen as part of a longer show of the artist's work next week at REDCAT, Geiser claims the realm of the fantastic as her own. It's the place of the liminal, where boundaries blur and the ground beneath you crumbles. Indeed, while storytelling often crafts a convincing fictional world and brings you into it, Geiser instead takes the ground away entirely. There's no ability to safely demarcate "this" from "that," or "here" from "there." We're left instead with melancholic reverie, at once beguiling as some quest or desire compels you forward, and uncanny as that inchoate thing that's sought escapes just beyond reach. These are magical movies that render the fantastic while at the same time embodying its effects. You experience the evanescent dissolution as you watch it.

Geiser is the Director of the Cotsen Center for Puppetry and the Arts at CalArts, and Co-Artistic Director of Automata, a Los Angeles nonprofit that creates and presents experimental puppet theater and film, and other kinds of art practices that focus on notions of ideas of objects, artifice and performance. Janie Geiser: Nervous Films, Secret Stories screens Monday, October 17, at 8:30 p.m. at REDCAT downtown.

About the Author

Holly Willis teaches in USC's School of Cinematic Arts and writes about new media art.
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