Decadence and Decay | Movie Feature | Chicago Reader

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Decadence and Decay

An art film inspired by what's left of the Edgewater Beach Hotel


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He assembled his volunteer cast and crew from MCA coworkers and the loose-knit community of musicians, artists, and aerialists that revolves around the Reversible Eye Gallery in Humboldt Park. "We'd build the Eliasson stuff, then go over to the Reversible Eye and build the sets," he says.

Hefner grew up outside Kalamazoo, where his parents were avid antiquarians. (They now sell antiques at a shop near South Haven.) He recalls having had "a lot of anxiety, a really rough time relating to my peers," until, at age 12, he began attending the Southwest Michigan Visual Arts Academy, where he studied painting, photography, design, and performance after school. "I completely entered that world," he says. "I wouldn't be anywhere without that place."

He started shooting photos when he was 13 or 14 years old, and the ornate frames he constructed for them from found materials grew into installations. When he began making short experimental films, he built nickelodeon-style housings in which to play them back, using old screens and amplifiers and, on one occasion, a stand made from deer hooves.

Though he speaks highly of his professors at Columbia, Hefner was frustrated by the prevailing commercial aesthetic among his classmates. "Eighty percent of the people in class wanted to make The Matrix or a Tarantino movie," he says. "That stuff drives me crazy. I was excited about the films of Joseph Cornell and Guy Maddin," which share a homemade, dreamlike quality. Hefner has cultivated a friendship with Maddin, 54, who's based in Winnipeg, corresponding with him and exchanging work. "We go back and forth and dork out," Hefner says.

"We've found we share a lot of excitements!" Maddin commented by e-mail. "I like corresponding with Chris because I always learn something new from him!"

After graduation in 2006, Hefner started working freelance for the MCA, setting up and breaking down exhibits. (He calls himself an "art carnie.") Meanwhile he continued to produce a steady stream of shorts and installations, which he's exhibited at Heaven Gallery, the Finch Gallery, and Swimming Pool Project Space. This summer he'll work in Winnipeg as a camera operator and film diarist, shooting behind-the-scenes footage, for Maddin's movie Key Hole. After that, Hefner plans to take The Pink Hotel on a European microcinema tour, with a different musician performing a 20-minute overture in each city. The tentative plan calls for Knox to play in London and the film's composer, Tommy Jansen, in his hometown of Oslo.

Hefner turns his aesthetic of decay on romance in the film he's writing now, The Poisoner, about a woman who answers a classified ad to marry and slowly kill a man. "Objects, animals, and people exist on this continuum of growth and erosion," he muses. "It's attractive to think of things connected that way. It's upsetting, but it's also calming."   v

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