TIFF 2013 Review: Pepper’s Ghost (2013)

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Cast: Stephen Broomer, Eva Kolcze, Cameron Moneo
Director: Stephen Broomer
Country: Canada
Genre: Short


Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit http://tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.

Stephen Broomer is an avant-garde filmmaker, film preservationist, teacher, and a member of the Loop Collective (a group of independent media artists that provides a public forum for integrating experimental film and video with other art forms). His films provoke questions and discussions on space, shapes, and time through the concept of superimposition.

Pepper’s Ghost is a structural film that converts a former observation studies office into a tunnel of changing and mesmerizing illusions through the use of light, fabric, glass, and colored gels. Moving bodies and stationary objects become transparent with this technique and are set to a mantra-like soundtrack.

It’s a color image essay that drew me out and had me questioning my own role in the visual’s space.

peppers_ghost_2013_2The superimposed colors and shapes are weaved throughout the images creating a shifting mandala; one that keeps the eye hooked to the center while taking you out as the lighting changes. It’s a color image essay that drew me out and had me questioning my own role in the visual’s space. There are times I felt that I was between colors, people, outside looking in or inside looking out. I was either looking through people who were looking at me or at something behind me through the camera’s lens. I found myself suspended in a blurred world of time and space as people moved in and out of the frame with no acknowledgement of me, the viewer, except through their glimpse in the lens. The cast even switches sides on repeatedly inverted scenes as the scenery changed my viewpoint like a switch in a Rubik’s cube.

Broomer’s film recalls Michael Snow’s Slidelength, (even Wavelength) with its constant change of gels and natural versus unnatural light.  However, Pepper’s Ghost stands out on its own as a magical arrangement of dividing perspectives within the confines of a still camera. What is real and what is truth in film? In experimental film you can question or charge each scene with your own perceptions. However, undoubtedly it is up to the experimental filmmaker to make you question the veracity of everything you bring in your role as the audience. Like a magician creating illusions with the swish of a wand, Broomer does a variety of things here to mystify, to provoke that inner dialogue, and bring it with you outside of his film.

Transforming the eye into a kaleidoscopic cave, the camera in front of you turns into a tiny transparent skeleton as people become fuller, fleshier in view.

In its mesmerizing progression, the film delivers gems of primary colors then diminishes them into a thin beam of light among the darkness, only to explode again in vivid brilliance. Transforming the eye into a kaleidoscopic cave, the camera in front of you turns into a tiny transparent skeleton as people become fuller, fleshier in view. They look out or look into its body. It’s a jarring effect, almost scary to contemplate, but nonetheless it’s a visceral delight to see it manifest.

Keep Broomer on your radar, for he continually expands on these themes of reality and structure through minimalist tones, lights, and shapes. As a big supporter of the avant-garde, I admire when a director can build beyond their foundations and Pepper’s Ghost gives us a taste of Broomer’s own cinematic journey through this transformative ouroboric experience.

[notification type="star"]89/100 ~ GREAT. Pepper’s Ghost stands out on its own as a magical arrangement of dividing perspectives within the confines of a still camera.[/notification]

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About Author

I'm a published writer, illustrator, and film critic. Cinema has been a passion of mine since my first viewing of Milius' Conan the Barbarian and my film tastes go from experimental to modern blockbuster.