Brent Green

DiverseWorks, Houston

David A. Feil

Brent Green, Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then (still), 2009; single channel video; 71 minutes; courtesy the arts and DiverseWorks, Houston

Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then, 2009; installation view, DiverseWorks, Houston

Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then is experimental filmmaker Brent Green’s first feature-length production, and like some of his previous shorter animations, it straddles the line between staying true to its real-life inspiration and metamorphosing into a world of Green’s own invention. The basis of the film is the story of Leonard Wood, a hardware store clerk from Kentucky who spent decades trying to transform his house into a “healing machine” after his wife was diagnosed with cancer and later died. In order to make the film, Green built life-size sets based on Wood’s house behind the Pennsylvania barn where the filmmaker lives and works. Blending his self-taught animation style with stop-motion shooting of live actors, the rough aesthetic of the film readily lends itself to a story in which facts commingle with make-believe.

Like Wood, Green ends up building a house for someone who will live there only in thought, but unlike the grieving store clerk, Green appears to be aware of that fact. As interesting as Wood’s story is in brief, when it comes to details, Green exaggerates the characteristics of the man in order to recast him as a hero of superb oddity. Whereas Wood, as far as we are told in the film, was impelled on his mission by love in the effort to regain something lost, we are left to wonder what it is that brings Green to so fervently long for something—this strange figure—that was perhaps never there to begin with. Building to an increasingly rushed quaver as the film progresses, Green’s narration clearly yearns to express the sublimity of absence, and while there are moments where our own sympathies reach the level of the filmmaker’s, his insistence begins to devolve into willful delusion, an artifice.

The attention to visual detail in the making of the film, however, is thoroughly rewarding. Like most self-taught artists, Green has developed his own way of playing against his technical shortcomings to create unique and unexpectedly perfect moments. Walking through the gallery space outside the screening room at DiverseWorks, where the filmmaker created a special installation of large diorama-type scenes of cut and painted cardboard to accompany the film, one can appreciate his transfiguration of simple materials into the wild, flickering environment of his films, never mind the slogans brusquely written next to them—as with the title of the film, Green has a penchant for isolating cleverly abstract phrases. There is little doubt that Green is making interesting work, but like Wood and his house, the interest might not lie in the clarity of his intent but in what he leaves behind along the way.

David A. Feil is an educator and writer currently living in Houston.

The exhibition will be on view through December 19, 2010.

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