America's Haunted Spirits

Chicago-based filmmaker Deborah Stratman will be at REDCAT tonight to show some new experimental works, including a 50-minute exploration of American patriotism called O'er the Land. The film moves through a series of vignettes depicting particularly American activities, shot with poetic languor, as if Stratman were a curious and respectful visitor fascinated by the odd habits and rituals of everyday life. These segments are dramatically interrupted, however, by the gripping story of Colonel William Rankin, a pilot whose jet failed while 47,000 feet above Earth in 1959; forced to eject, Rankin was tossed about in a thunderstorm such that his downward tumble took nearly 45 minutes. He managed to open his parachute, but all in all, the trip was harrowing. But why does this quiet film suddenly shift gears? What is the relationship between the serene, keenly observed portraits and this riveting story?

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I think the answer is suggested by philosopher Michel Foucault, who, in describing transgression, captures the way this film is suddenly illuminated by this scene: "Perhaps it [transgression] is like a flash of lightning in the night which, from the beginning of time, gives a dense and black intensity to the night it denies; which lights up the night from the inside, from top to bottom, and yet owes to the dark the stark clarity of its manifestation, its harrowing and poised singularity." Rankin's story tells of a moment of transgression, when life's everydayness transforms into the exceptional, and yet it also depends on the quotidian to define it. The two work together, mutually determining each other.
Stratman's work - simply described as experimental or essayistic documentary - is invariably intriguing. I'm also a big fan of her half-hour film In Order Not To Be Here, which ponders surveillance, visually conveying the complexities of looking and being seen. Indeed, I'm planning on showing this film tonight to a group of media art students at Art Center, not merely as compensation for missing her show, but because it's such an excellent example of the ways in which artists can tackle social and cultural issues using the power of sound and image.
The REDCAT show will also include Stratman's three new short visual poems titled The Paranormal Trilogy.

the details
Deborah Stratman: America's Haunted Spirits
In person: Deborah Stratman
Monday, Feb. 23, 8:30 p.m.
corner of W. 2nd St. and Hope St.
Image #1, from O'er the Land
Image #2, from In Order Not To Be Here

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