Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Wolf and the Medallion

    The Wolf and the Medallion premiered at the 5-point Film Festival in Colorado back in April, and finally made it to the filmmaker's hometown of Kansas City last night. The festival site described it as "a thrilling experimental art performance by artist and climber, Jeremy Collins, the filmmaker who brought you last year’s beloved Border Country. Scored to live music, this multifaceted piece will take over your senses—most importantly, your sense of wonder. The Wolf and the Medallion is rooted in Collins’ personal climbing adventure to the border of China and Mongolia (Keketuohai, "the Tuluomne of China"), where rumors of a virgin canyon of granite revealed a cultural and vertical experience like no other. From the summit of his first peak, Collins writes a letter to his son back home, a letter that guides the film along its peaks and valleys. An encompassing journey of fatherhood, brotherhood and adventure, The Wolf and the Medallion is a captivating and original tale." And indeed it was. The presentation packed a lot of inspiration into an hour.
    The show melded performance art, video, animation, and music. The score was performed live, led by the piano, cello and viola primarily, with the occasional bass guitar and drums. It was beautiful; rich, bold, even haunting at times.
   The first short film featured an actor interacting with the screen behind him. The theme was the basic human need to get back to nature; cityscapes, traffic and busyness juxtaposed with a man who stops following the lines (streets) and starts pushing back on them. Not wholly original, but powerfully presented.
   The main course began with a John Muir quote, spelled out in stop-motion-animated twigs:
"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn."
   Collins narrated the story of his journey from home to China, in part a journey of remembrance of two dear friends who had recently perished on a mountain. He joked about all the permissions he had to gain for the trip: from the Chinese government, customs... and the most difficult to attain: from his wife, who he would be leaving to care for their two young children. He detailed the letter that he wrote to his young son, Zion. He reviewed the ten rules he wished his son to follow, which included:
     - Respect women.
     - If someone feels like an outcast, make them feel welcome.
     - Respect nature; it has seniority.
     - If something terrifies you it's probably best to consider trying it.
     During the show there were two segments in which Collins opened a small cabinet on center stage, and painted first a wolf, then later flipped it and painted a mountain scene. When this was done, he pulled the doors outward to reveal wings, and a bird head on top. Interestingly, this was the second time I've seen live painting on stage this year (Janelle Monae painted during an instrumental part of one of her songs).
    When the film was over, Collins introduced the musicians, who turned out to also be key players in the entire experience: the bass guitar player and the viola player were also the animators, and the pianist was the composer. That's a remarkable amount of talent on one stage!
    At the finale, the filmmaker came out to speak to us. The wolf, for Collins, is complacency. He spoke about what the wolf might be for each of us: lethargy or other things waiting to strike at us and hold us back from what life has to offer us. "And you and me? We are the rabbit." And we must always run from our personal beast.
   Through tears and a shaky voice, Collins implored us to "Take the journey from heart to head; it is between the two that we find our voice." Well said.
   One of my favorite parts was that as we were leaving the auditorium, there was a table set up with a couple of Collins's sketchbooks and the accordion-fold artwork that were featured in the films. I LOVE seeing other artists' sketchbooks, because they are so individual and unique, and give you a window into their mind. It's all about what they see, not what they want you to see—and that's why this was a rare treat. Some artists never show their books to anyone. (I learned this in college when I asked a fellow student if I could see the book that was ever-present in her hand. The answer was NO. A very chilly no, in fact.) They are carefully guarded. His were raw, unpolished, awesome. These books were literal books; he cut out most of the pages, leaving interesting or relevant ones, and pasting in his own pages. They were comprised of collages, drawings and paintings. His work has so much life to it, and it was easy to see why it translated so well into animation.
  If there is an encore performance of this show, I'll be there, and I'll bring more friends. This is a work that deserves to be seen.