Monday, August 25, 2008

"The Brig" by The Living Theater

One of the more interesting movies I've seen lately. The Living Theater is a theater/performance art group that's been around since 1947. The Brig won a prize for documentary at the Venice Film Festival, documentary because it was a document of a performance art act more than of a play. The basic premise is that this is one day in a Marine Corps brig, with the action taking place in several segments portraying different times of day. Nothing really happens in terms of plot. Instead, the action is in the increasing cruelty of the guards to the prisoners, who don't sit around in cells but are put through increasingly strenuous and horrible routines throughout the day, with being punched or otherwise beaten when the regulations are broken or they show less than total enthusiasm for what their captors want them to do.

At first you think that the people in charge are just being needlessly and pointlessly cruel, with regulations about not stepping on white lines and properly addressing the captors in just the white way time after time, but as the film goes on you see that the point is to mold these folks into obedient robots who will unthinkingly follow any command, to rapidly dehumanize them, take away whatever impulse lead them to break the rules, and to mold them into people who live by and die by the Marine Corps code of conduct.

The action in the film takes place in an over the top fashion, sacrificing realism in portrayal for using the provocation of raw, emotional, responses to communicate the idea that they want to put forward.

I recommend locating a copy of the doc. and seeing it. The Living Theater appears to put it on every once and a while judging by their website, so you could catch it in person as well.

If you did that, though, you'd miss the entertaining spectacle of Julian Beck, one of the founders and leaders of the troupe, playing a Marine Corps officer, including one point where the camera mistakenly captures him while he's giving direction, making a large gesture suggesting to an actor that he needs to bring out the screaming and the emotion more. Maybe it makes more of an impact if you've seen the video of "Paradise Now". I'll get to that one some time in the future, but at the moment will note that the video is somewhat crippled by the application of the concept of not having one dominant viewpoint to the filming of the art action itself, leading to a kind of confused picture of an event that's already kind of confusing.

*on edit: I'm thinking of the Mystic Fire release of "Paradise Now" that was filmed in Berlin and Belgium. After a quick look I found a DVD based on their American tour.

*on edit #2:the set is very important. It's a chain link fenced in square with bunk beds with a pathway outside that surrounds it on three sides. Floor to ceiling chain link fence. Beyond that are strings of barbed wire, although the only times the audience sees them is at the beginning and end of it since they're located between the audience and the main set.

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