Author: Alexandra Cheney
Wall Street Journal, February 3, 2011
Sue de Beer Celebrates the Ghosts
For just over 30 minutes, artist and filmmaker Sue de Beer transports her audience on a hyperrealist journey in her newest film and installation entitled "The Ghosts." The two-channel video debuted Wednesday night to an unlikely melange of board members and cult followers. Exhibited in the Park Avenue Armory's Veterans Room, a regal space with details of inlaid wood and gothic chandeliers designed in 1880, de Beer added white mohair carpet and oversized silver pillows, creating a space where the audience was forced at once to be both voyeur and participant.
"The Ghosts," mimics a giallo - an Italian genre that mixes horror and mystery and gained popularity in the late 1960s. Through four monologues, it tells the story of a hypnotist who can return lost spans of time and memory to their rightful owners. Those owners in turn experience the moments as if for the first time.
The idea for the film came after de Beer had ceased to create anything for a year. It was 2007, and de Beer was constantly traveling between New York and Berlin. "My personal life was chaotic," de Beer said. "I was disconnected from personal relationships, never quite where I was supposed to be."
To refocus de Beer spent hours in a sensory deprivation tank and sought out hypnotists in both cities. When it came time to write, de Beer found herself riding the Berlin U-Bahn alone after the sun set with a notebook. She then locked herself in a room for two months straight. Besides her notebook, a chair, desk and blanket were her only company, not unlike one of the characters in the film.
"I lived in this in-between," de Beer said. "I had this feeling in the script, I was longing to move into fantasy space."
After she finished the script, which centers around a troubled money manager, played by first-time actor Jon Spencer, singer and guitarist of the "Jon Spencer Blues Explosion," a young woman and a record-store clerk, de Beer shelved it. That was the fall of 2008. She shot for two weeks in the fall of 2009 and for one week in summer 2010.
"Throughout shooting she kept saying, "do less, do less," said Claire Buckingham, who plays the young woman. "Sue just wanted to take away the performance of acting and have the simplicity of the space and the moment." To do that, Buckingham said de Beer called for long takes. So long that Buckingham actually fell asleep during one of the scenes where her character visits the hypnotist, played by Jutta Koether, a painter and musician.
While the deviled quail egg with miso and salmon French toast detracted from the eeriness of the evening, Andy Comer's nine-song performance added to it. Comer and de Beer had collaborated on several past projects including their 2009 performance of "Radio Play" at The Kitchen in the Lower East Side.
"Her film is beautiful," Comer said, although neither he nor de Beer sat in on either of the evening's two screenings. "The film questions dream life and tries to make sense of the past while dealing with loss. There are few more relatable topics than that."