By special request, this event has been moved to Thursday. Don’t have a Valentine’s date? We don’t either. Let’s watch some film!
This week’s film:
Book of Days (1988 - Directed by Meredith Monk)
VHS/Black & White and Color/English/75 Mins/Not Rated
(Above: I want to try and get into the habit of showing our actual items from the archive. The fact that we have these tapes in the archive is the doing of Tyrone Davies. The first copy on top is the early TV edit he obtained from a teacher and the second tape is the complete version which he received from the film’s actual distributor.)
I have a strange fascination with the way people used to label VHS tapes and cassettes in order to make them personalized. Another obsolete part of old media. I like Tyrone’s home made art on these:
I was in fact introduced to the music of Meredith Monk by Tyrone. We had been LDS missionary companions together in Taiwan, and found that we both shared the same obsessions with unusual and experimental music, art, performance and film. Upon our returns to the states, he visited me in Utah handing me a mix-tape. Included were works by the likes of Harry Partch, John Cale, Captain Beefheart and a track by Meredith Monk called “Travelers 1,2,3” from the Book of Days Soundtrack. I could only describe it at the time as instrumental music with the human voice. No lyrics, just odd calm vocal sounds as if strangely hummed out of her nose. It became one of my favorite tracks of the cassette that I never forgot.
Many years later, Tyrone obtained a poor quality TV dub copy of the film from a film teacher. Due to his love with this movie, he obtained the official copy direct from the distributor and then toured with the film in his traveling Free Form Film Festival - complete with live performance art by local sound poet Alex Caldiero.
(Above: Utah’s own beat and sound poet madman Alex Caldiero. aka The dad from Trent Harris’ - “Plan 10 From Outer Space.” He also played my other dimensional father in a feature film Tyrone and I made together, but that’s another story.)
(Above: One of the opening shots of “Book of Days”)
I think Tryrone and I had a preview of the complete film together before he took it to the big screen in SLC and I for one was in love, both with this film and make growing appreciation for the art and music of Monk. This has been one of my favorite films since.
Sorry, I feel like I’m on a nostalgic tangent that nobody really cares about. These are just fond memories ok???
“Get on with the review Mr. Swelch.” Ok ok, Betsy Ross. This film is a little hard to explain, and would seem to be the source for many a thesis paper on experimental film if people only knew about it. There are no reviews of this on IMDB.
Luckily for IMDB, “nickvans-2” posted the following on the message board:
“Because IMBD is sorely lacking any information on this film, and I’m sure anybody who comes here is wondering what the heck this movie is about, I’ve decided to shed some light on this a little bit.
Here is the summary (written by Monk) that is included with the vinyl release of the soundtrack:
‘Book of Days’ is not a conventional narrative but, in the tradition of my earlier films and musical theater pieces, is a kind of tapestry which weaves together narrative strands, music, images, movement and text.
The film travels back and forth between the Middle Ages and the present (the “historical” sections are in black and white; the present is in color). The main character is Eva, a young Jewish girl living in the 15th century who has bewildering (to her) visions of contemporary life (planes, cars, people in hospitals, a New York street etc.). These visions and her drawings of them become the bridge between the two periods.
Early in the film, after the explosion of a modern wall uncovers a medieval village, we are introduced to daily life in the Middle Ages. Characters from both the Christian and Jewish communities as well as “outsider” such as a madwoman, a wandering monk and a traveling Jewish storyteller, are interview by an unseen modern voice as if the Middle Ages were being documented by a contemporary television crew.
When the young girl tries to describe her visions to her grandfather, he gives them a Biblical interpretation.
Misunderstood by her family and community, the young girl finds in the madwoman a kindred spirit whose overview of the flow of time and compassion or human suffering, ignorance and violence in relation to the power of nature, give Eva a sense of comfort and understanding of her own clairvoyance.
(Above: The Mad Woman played by Monk herself.)
Towards the end of the film, the village is overtaken by the plague…” -IMDB
I decided to cut the above summary short as to not give away the end of this beautiful film ;) - BC
The 74-minute version was shown at the New York Film Festival in 1989 - you can read a review here:
(Above: An excellent use of found footage in “Book of Days”)
It was then cut down to 55 minutes and shown on PBS as part of their “Alive From Off Center” series.
The only ways to see this film, according to Meredith Monk’s website (www.meredithmonk.org) are either booking the 35mm print (74 minutes), or ordering a VHS copy of the 55-minute version from Insight Media (www.insight-media.com) for $150.
I love this film very much. There really is nothing like it. People often make art with the juxtaposition of objects. Monk creates films that juxtapose past and present, the primitive and technology, color and black & white, alive within the same plain of existence and space without explanation. She also combines beauty and very serious subject matter with moments of the absurd. (Some of this fascination of weaving the past with the present was hinted at in Monk’s previous film “Ellis Island.”)
Even though our lead actress in having incoherent visions of the future, it’s as if people from the future (in this case the 80’s) have been living among her people all a long. Or perhaps are there for a visit.
Monk leaves many things open for interpretation.
I’ve never shown this film before as part of the Lost Media film series. I suppose I felt in the early years that the ISMN crowd wasn’t ready for something of this nature. But the time is now!
Book of Days is very poetic, absurdest, experimental, and quite beautiful. I look very much to seeing it again with you this Wednesday :)
In a recent phone call, new genre film maker Tyrone Davies said: “Book of Days” is as good as any avant garde experimental film you’ve ever seen. It’s a shame they don’t talk about her in text books.”
A short message to Meredith: I’ve seen you perform live on stage twice and once met you backstage, a little too star struck to speak and only telling you that I was a cartoonist. I know you are now in your 70’s but I still have a huge crush on you.
Bonus Short Film: “Ballet mécanique” (1924)
DVD/18 Mins/Silent with Music/Not Rated
For those who come early at 7 PM ;)
Place: The Art City Mansion (aka my house) in Springville.
Time: Thursday Feb. 14th @ 7 PM for the Short - 7:25 PM for the Feature
Friends, food and newbies welcome always. Hope to see some of you out :)
PS. “Book of Days” has now finally been released on DVD and is available directly from Meredith Monk’s website: