Psyche | Chicago Reader

Psyche

This wonderful program of films by Sidney Peterson and James Broughton, which includes some of the earliest major works of the American avant-garde, exhibits a surrealist influence that few of their successors have embraced. Yet the films' absurdist humor and free-floating, dissociative logic, which might at times leave viewers stupefied, actually demand more active participation than many experimental films. Peterson and Broughton's collaboration The Potted Psalm (1946) is an urban romp full of broken narrative threads in which, as Peterson wrote, each scene can have “a dozen different interpretations.” A headless character, who at one point pours a drink into his high-necked jacket, seems to represent the surrealists' rejection of quotidian, rational thought. The Cage (1947), which Peterson made at the school now called the San Francisco Art Institute, is at once more controlled and more absurd. The city's hilly landscape becomes a metaphor for the film's imbalances as an anamorphic lens twists and stretches the landscape and city streets appear in reverse motion. As shown by the image of a man wearing a birdcage on his head, the film is no naive paean to anarchy but a carefully woven drama in which liberation and entrapment are closely entwined. On the same program, Broughton's black comedy Mother's Day (1948) and Peterson's superb The Petrified Dog (1948).

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