–from New on DVD
The Children of the Dawn is now available on DVD, and one might learn some very interesting things by studying the demographics of the people who actually choose to purchase this exceedingly strange but admittedly monumental experiment in digital video recording and do so with the expectation of being entertained. This eight-disk set contains the complete work as it was first shown on a video monitor in a small room within MOMA in the autumn of 2007, and even in that urbane and adventurous setting, one would wonder about the motives of the few viewers who one could always see camped out in that very tiny space, those who had requested the special overnight passes and had committed to almost a day and a half of continuous viewing. Indeed, as with the original gallery installation, The Children of the Dawn on DVD will provoke for most of us questions about the mystery of what constitutes an audience and what compels a desire to consume something as entertainment or art. Those exclusive few who have made the full commitment are strangely silent about the mysteries with the work itself. Perhaps the control available in watching a DVD to stop viewing at will and resume at will might bring more viewers into willing contact with the work, but one must still wonder.
Just as one must wonder why writer and â€œperformerâ€ Marc Honea would choose such an eccentric form to â€œrecordâ€ what is essentially a sprawling semi-historical novel. Honeaâ€™s method involves recording himself in a single static close-up shot on a digital camera. Addressing the camera lens directly, he acts out the entire story, speaking as over a hundred different characters, all addressing themselves directly to the camera. The sensations of scenes among characters and dialogue exchanges are created by cutting, but the shot never changes. Honea has merely adopted the face and voice of a new character who is, in turn, addressing the camera. Often the cutting among faces and voices is diabolically fast and creates a strange disorienting effect in the viewer that â€˜must be experienced to be understood or, at least,…experienced. As a literary comparison, one is reminded of the almost exclusively dialogue-driven works of William Gaddis, and as with Gaddis there are occasional descriptive passages, but Honea delivers them to the viewer in the same fashion as he performs the storyâ€™s characters, adopting what he has called â€œphysiognomaniacal abstractions,â€ a more extreme method of delivery which contrasts with the very believable playing of characters. And if one takes the work in small doses, which the DVD allows, you cannot help but be drawn in by Honeaâ€™s acting which, though relying much of the time on extreme facial and vocal manipulation and contortion, does draw the viewer into a kind of unique reality. Honea perfected this method in his 2004 digital video treatment of Thomas Costainâ€™s 1955 novel The Tontine. As to the â€œwhyâ€ of this method, it is hard to know how to interpret what Honea said in an interview from 2005: â€œThe only thing Iâ€™ve ever worked at consistently is making faces in the bathroom mirror while talking in funny voices. Everything else has felt like pretending.â€
Such is the method that Honea uses to perform The Children of the Dawn, and he persists with it without wavering for thirty-three and a half hours, for fifty-seven chapters and an epilogue. Part of Honeaâ€™s intent is to create a kaleidoscopic, surreal cavalcade that makes stops through most of the twentieth century, but most of the storyâ€™s action takes place in London in the late Sixties and focuses on the lives of two prominent musicians in two very prominent and legendary rock and roll bands. Honea has offered the following on the storyâ€™s origins:
â€œI was at a party and people were trying to compare Led Zeppelin with The Rolling Stones, and as a result some people were led to say some really stupid things about both bands. I begin to feel a knot in my stomach and had to say that comparing Zeppelin and The Stones was like comparing apples and oranges. The hostess of the party agreed with me and I felt a tremendous amount of relief. That got me to thinking about how one might go about describing accurately the difference between the music and the overall vibe of these two bands. My shorthand distinction became â€˜material and mystical.â€™ And I was rather happy with that until I started thinking about Mick Jagger and Jimmy Page in particular and how they both rubbed shoulders with American filmmaker, â€œmagus,â€ and Aleister Crowley acolyte Kenneth Anger. In other words, two very different imaginations were dipping into the same pools, not only through a reverence for the Blues but also through this very theatricalized occult sensibility. How did my neatly formulated ‘material and mystical’ divergence fit into that? I came up with a few fictional identities and some imaginary discographies and let it start to play out…”
And play out it does. On and on it plays. For hours. A maddening, crazed, brilliant exercise; a naively simple technique etching out an exceedingly involved, panoramic epic tale…