On Tour: St. John, USVI

14 Apr

April 7, 2015  | Tie It Into My Hand| St. John, USVI

4-7_Cinnamon Beach edit

En route to the screening, snorkeling

I love Q&A. Every once in a while a question wakes you up out of your post-screening stupor with its candor, for example Tuesday night at the St. John Film Society when a man asked, with some incredulity, “How do you live?”

The question took me by surprise. Tie It Into My Hand is about the artist’s life, and it asks, among related questions, how someone making manifestly, one could say ostentatiously noncommercial work—any creative person who answers only to the market in which imagination haggles with time and energy—makes rent under late capitalism. And it gives specifics: how George Stoll has run out of money and had to price carrots, how John Kelly couldn’t make it as a hooker, because he had too much empathy, how Monique Jenkinson doesn’t think a lot about the things she doesn’t have, except sometimes, when she’s schlepping her groceries on her bike.

But on this subject the film doesn’t give my specifics: nine years spent in a digital sweatshop following college, the severance pay, UI, stock options, and prematurely cashed-in 401(k) monies that might have added up to a down payment on a studio apartment in San Francisco ten years ago (those were the days) if I hadn’t sunk it all into a novel (now celebrating its 13th year of composition) and my first film.

Other specifics: the blossoming of a humanities PhD boyfriend into a salaried professor husband who’s willing to assume a (much) greater share of expenses while I navigate the cross-currents of competing ever-“emerging” careers in film, fiction and music and the looming threat of AARP envelopes coming, blade-like, through the mail slot; and then there are the debts, the Kickstarter campaigns and other variations on modern mendicancy.

My answer managed to bypass these thickets, variously soporific and humiliating, and instead focused on the munificence and vision of organizations like the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation and the St. John Film Society, which generously supported tonight’s program; and of co-executive producer Al Baum and commissioning institution ODC Theater, which underwrote Tie It Into My Hand. And I quoted Mink Stole’s remark in the film that, after her last cubicle gig, which she exited throwing things, she simply resolved that from that point forward she was going to get by on her art alone, and that’s how she’s lived ever since: “Somehow or other, I manage to get by.” (And I might have extended this train of thought to the E.E. Cummings line from the introduction to Is 5 that has sustained me through nights and days of abundant terror and low self-esteem, little cash, less retirement plan, and medical underinsurance, in which he disposes of security—capitalism’s highest value along with luxury and pillage—as a “birthproof safetysuit.”)

The answer wasn’t entirely graceless, but I’m only giving myself 50 percent credit for it, a failing grade, because the correct answer, and the answer next time, is, “I live by virtue of your presence here, your commitment to independent film, and your purchase of DVDs which I will be signing at the concessions table on your way out of the theater.”

Even absent this helpful prompt, DVD sales weren’t bad for an audience of 20—I sold two copies of my documentary Apparition of the Eternal Church, which I spent a lot of time talking about in the Q&A since it explains not only how I became a filmmaker, and how I wound up making films about music, but how I arrived at the experimental premise of Tie It Into My Hand, in which several dozen artists, none violinists, teach me a violin lesson on the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. I sold one copy of Tie and one of my silent-film comedy The Glitter Emergency. Two copies of my Bach solo violin CD (d minor partita and C major sonata) departed from the theater before the public arrived, an almost mystical occurrence that had everyone turning over coolers and scratching their heads. They were in paper CD sleeves and I contented myself with the explanation that the wind picked them up and deposited them on the British Virgin Islands, where one joined the CD collection of a widowed pensioner from Brighton, and the other lodged in the nest of a toucan.

I always mean to take photos of the venue and the audience on a tour like this and in the heat of battle never remember. The venue, the dramatically high-ceilinged amber-stained main room of the St. John School of the Arts, was beautiful; I itched for my violin in there. My experience of the screening was mixed. The power has gone out every night of the four I’ve been in the Virgin Islands, and the power company issued a warning for Tuesday night, so I had that knot in my stomach; but somehow the projector and sound system stayed on through all 77 minutes of the film. Audience response was shall we say inward.

This is no credit to me, but to my cast of violin teaching cut-ups:

Tie It Into My Hand is sidesplitting, and on Tuesday sepulchral silence greeted its most hilarious moments, including Margaret Cho’s newly added story about shitting herself onstage. (I challenge you to name one single thing that isn’t funny about that.) I went up to the Q&A like Thomas More to his scaffold, knowing in some sense that I had brought this on myself, hoping it would be quick, keeping faith that my suffering would one day be redeemed if not avenged; and so I was surprised when the ovation was long, the faces rapt, the questions many, and the vibe attentive, supportive, maybe even uplifted. When the Q&A was through people came up to the concessions table and parted with their money, and with their opinions of the work and about what art is and who artists are and what it is that we do. That conversation—that is how I live.

Post by OSIP touring filmmaker, Paul Festa.
To listen to a podcast interview with the filmmaker, click here.

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