Subtle Subversions: Films by Peggy Ahwesh | Movie Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Subtle Subversions: Films by Peggy Ahwesh

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Since cinema's earliest years, filmmakers have been finding ways to question and sometimes undermine the illusions created by traditional fiction or documentary styles. In the face of this long history, Peggy Ahwesh nonetheless manages to make films and videos that are genuinely original. Martina's Playhouse (1989) is one of the most disturbing videos I've ever seen, transgressing boundaries in the way its mother and child subjects relate to each other and the camera. The child, intensely aware of the camera's presence, seems at times to be performing for the camera--choosing, for example, to put on a diaper, even though she's too old for one. At one point she and her mother decide to reverse roles, her mother pretending to suck milk from the child's breasts. Such moments cause the viewer to question all social conventions--both of human relations and of film viewing. When a disembodied voice reads texts from Lacan about the psychoanalytic theory of desire, it seems almost ridiculous: the film's portrayal of sensual life eludes such categorizations. With its loud noises and high-contrast lighting, The Scary Movie (1993) at first resembles a student-film parody of a monster movie. It soon becomes evident that we're watching a parody of a parody, as the artificiality and woodenness of the imagery distances the actors and actions, creating a metaphor for the way media imagery distances viewers from the human body. Also on the program are the film The Color of Love (1994), in which two women try to have sex with what looks like a corpse, and The Fragments Project (1994), a sketchbooklike assemblage of oddly powerful diverse scenes. Kino-Eye Cinema at Chicago Filmmakers, 1543 W. Division, Friday, January 17, 8:00, 773-384-5533. --Fred Camper

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): The Scary Movie film still.

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