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Sundance at Home with 'We’re All Going to the World’s Fair'
Virtual sure, festive yes.
It’s funny to me how my last in-person moviegoing experience was at the start of our current pandemic, and it was for a movie about time being turned into a weapon of war. As our new President Joe Biden has made clear, a “wartime” approach is needed to get us through COVID and, unfortunately, we can’t roll back the clock to just before the spread.
I watched Tenet double-masked and at a theater just down the street from my home, and it was the most stressful viewing I’ve ever had at a most convenient showtime. Too many complications and rules, too many variables of jerks not wearing coverings, too loud audio, and not loud enough dialogue. Plus, I was breathing heavier due to the two masks on my face.
This is not the best time, whatsoever, for people to gather in closed quarters. We still want to moviego, but how can we do this when we can’t go out?
It’s likely that, for the next year or more, virtual screenings will be how we go to the movies. Unless a drive-in is nearby, your internet connection will be the best box office available. But with bonus Q&A’s and short presentations being included, there exists a chance for innovation and re-engagement. Maybe it won’t be IMAX, but to be fair, most modern IMAX screens weren’t really IMAX.
Your home may not really be a theater, but it can be your cinema. At least, for a time.
Links (to read & watch)
"Films take years to make, and meanwhile years keep slipping by. Years that could be spent doing something else, something less agonizing, less financially draining, something with fewer moving parts."
Sundance 2021, Part 1: We’re All Going to the World’s Fair
In a world of windows, how deep can we gaze? This can and has been asked of cinema ever since its inception of course - in one form or another - from silent to sound to 3D to now. Does film have a future, and if so… how long will it last? If you listen to Peter Greenaway, it’s already dead. If you listen to Christopher Nolan, it’s very much alive. Did theatrical exhibitions start out of the carnival tents? Should this be where film returns? Did it ever leave? These questions keep swirling days after watching We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, a movie that’s structured inside of and through screens and windows and frames of all sorts. How it captured such perspectives and shifts might be the singular answer to each of the above queries.
It’s the story of a teenager who we know as Casey. Her nebbish visage belies her colorful bedroom, seen through the eye of an unfeeling computer camera. Glow in the dark stickers and a lovable question mark adorn her walls, as she practices to her monitor what she’ll be saying and doing for a new video. We see her preparation a few more times in the story and in different settings (her bedroom, some snowy woods, etc), either from a far away voyeur position or as her direct audience. Our view of her in these particular moments is stationary but not static; she can come on over and engage whenever she wants, but it’s up to her if and when.
World’s Fair is at the direction of The Eyeslicer’s Jane Schoenbrun, whose work on this one can only imagine was most complex. It’s reminiscent of Eugene Kotlyarenko’s work with social/unsocial media in his movies, but vastly different in approach and resolution. Both filmmakers get at the human heart of it all, but where Eugene goes for the critical point, Jane aspires for an embrace. World’s Fair treats its subject and subjects with reverence and compassion, especially at their darkest times.
Casey (performed by the debuting and excellent Anna Cobb) takes on the “World’s Fair Challenge” in that opening scene, and will record her behavior and feelings after taking it. It’s akin to a “Bloody Mary” goof, only played up by online users as a body horror experience. And indeed, the horrors come. Casey’s videos grow and change as she grows and changes, letting herself go in increasingly dramatic and disturbing ways. These uploads never turn totally tragic or outright violent, but we feel strongly for her and for ourselves in these scenes. They suggest bad turns that may arrive in her future, but also potentially positive and healthy ones. Casey is awfully brave in her shell-breaking, no matter if reality is breaking for her or not. While it’s hard to imagine Casey having a life outside of this online one, it’s clear that she must, since we’re only viewing what she’s allowing us to. It’s all so courageous and subversive to be sure.
The film has three main characters: Casey, a middle-aged man known as JLB, and the audience. Sometimes we’re active to the other two, sometimes we’re left in the cold as the creators connect just with one another. These connections are mostly found in views of each other’s videos, but in representing people watching, at least it all makes for one feeling less lonely. But only “less.” This is a film of great and grand expression, transforming and challenging our own ideas and beliefs of art, of ourselves, and of others. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is certainly a picture in a frame specially made, but through this frame and whatever screen we choose to watch it on, it absolutely complicates our notions of what cinema is, if and how it can or should expand, and just how many perspectives are too much for us to live through.
Answer: You can never have too many perspectives, but never lose grasp of your own and of where you are.