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Playing with light & language: experimental filmmaker

by Jason Madanjian / Beacon Staff • February 21, 2013

Peter Rose spoke at Emerson on Tuesday.
Peter Rose spoke at Emerson on Tuesday.

A few years ago, experimental filmmaker Peter Rose said he was going through a mid—life crisis. A crisis spurred by the amount of time he has spent on the road, showcasing his filmography.  During that time, he saw Brad Pitt’s critically lambasted film Troy, based on Homer’s Iliad. When watching the film, Rose connected to the character of Odysseus, who returns home after a long absence and must wade his way back into life.

The resulting film Odysseus in Ithaca was screened alongside five other shorts on Tuesday night in the Bright Family Screening Room for the event An Evening With Experimental Filmmaker Peter Rose. 

Deceptively simple at first glance, the film is one five-minute running shot of an empty parking garage, as seen through a moving car. The parking garage represents the dauntingly vast ocean while the booming sound of traffic and wind in the background further illustrates the metaphor of Odysseus’s return home: lonely, unnerving, and confusing. 

Throughout the evening, Rose continually stood up at the podium to introduce each film and take questions after it was screened for the audience of roughly 30 students and faculty members. With a balding head and salt and pepper beard, Rose didn’t set out to outdo the weirdness of his films. He dressed simply with a buttoned-up white shirt and a sports coat that wouldn’t be out of place in a college professor’s wardrobe. He also frequently talked about the screening, creating a casual atmosphere.

“I love exploring the topography of a city,” said Rose about the textual nature of his films, which are driven not by the characters but the locations. “Exploring space is an erotic act, not sexual, but just sensual.”

Rose has been making video and audio works since the 1970s. He focuses particularly on the power of language and light in filmmaking. Perhaps it’s this emphasis that has brought him to acclaimed festivals, such as the London International Film Festival and the Black Maria Film Festival.

Metalogue, made in 2000 and also shown Tuesday night, features shots of flashlights roaming through the corridors of a tunnel at one-eighth speed while the noise of pigs squealing is slowed down and sped up. There’s no narrative focus of the piece. Rather, it strives to entrance the audience with the magic of light and sound.

“It’s somewhere between dance and performative illumination movement,” said Rose. 

The goal of his work is to demonstrate how powerful, yet different, language and images are, according to the filmmaker. His 1993 audio drama The Gift relies solely on the voices and language to tell the tale of a little girl who meets a snake. 

In the work, the girl believes everything to be unique and special: that every drop of water is the only example of itself that ever was or ever will be. And this makes the girl happy. However, the snake, named Ralph, tells her nothing is unique: that every drop of water or blade of grass is just the same as all the others. According to Rose, the snake proves his point that language can corrupt, as it did for the once romantically optimistic little girl. And that is perhaps the central thesis of all his pieces. 

“Language dominates our perception,” said Rose when explaining why he works with experimental films. “I want to show an image without ruining it with words.”