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You Were An Amazement On The Day You Were Born: Videos by Duke and Battersby

  • Arts + Literature Laboratory 2021 Winnebago Street Madison, WI, 53704 United States (map)

Mills Folly Microcinema screens two standout works from filmmaking duo Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby. Info

“ You Were an Amazement on the Day You Were Born”.

You Were an Amazement on the Day You Were Born”.

After taking a brief hiatus and spawning an offshoot program of weekly 16mm screenings in June at maiahaus, the Mills Folly Microcinema Series returns to Arts + Literature Lab with two roughly 30-minute experimental short films from Canadian-born filmmaking duo Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby, whose works play like kaleidoscopic essay-film scrapbooks. In their 2015 short, Dear Lorde, they craft a portrait of teenage Maxine Rose (Katie Agretelis) through a collage of visual juxtapositions of wildlife as well as popular music, at times disparate and others complementary to her verbalized thoughts on growing up a stranger in a remote California town.

The film begins with Lorde's ubiquitous single "Royals" playing over a fast-motion credits montage with animal bones arranged to spell out the titular greeting in a desert field, then plunges into the intimate inquisitiveness of 14-year-old Maxine on the first day of the year. In creating a list of essential New Year's resolutions "to become a worthwhile person" before turning 15, she sorts through her ambitions in the form of seemingly unreciprocated stream-of-consciousness letter-writing to activists like Jane Goodall, Desmond Tutu, and Lynn Margulis. Occasionally, Maxine's idealistic narration feels oddly similar to that of the titular character in Alexander Payne's About Schmidt (2002), but this is partly fostered by the rapid succession of these invocations and crude manifestations of text on-screen that feel like detached components of an art installation. 

The creative team's work has only grown stronger as they've explored a greater variety of themes. Duke and Battersby's most recent short, You Were An Amazement On The Day You Were Born (2019), is similarly concerned with female experience, but its scope is vaster and more haunting. Watching it is like turning the pages of a graphic novel. It details the entire life of a woman named Leonore through voiceover—from being diagnosed with "developmental delays" at the age of four in the 1970s to the strained relationships and sanguine revelations prior to her 80th birthday. The vernacular in You Were An Amazement's narration is decidedly ornate and literary, augmented by its intense and deliberate imagery of scavenging wild animals and arachnids. This short film truly triumphs, though, in the purity and honesty of concise oral storytelling, like a defining moment in the woman's twenties when she describes practicing a demented Joker-like smile to ward off the persistence of leering men in bars. It's a shrewdly comical gesture, yet confronts a disturbing social culture that sees women as submissive prey. —Grant Phipps

Earlier Event: August 26
Cinghiale, Steve Marquette
Later Event: August 30
Suburbia (free)