17 October 2008

El Automovil Gris

MIAF 2008
El Automovil Gris  
Theatro De Ciertos Habitantes and Melbourne International Arts Festival
17 October 2008
Merlyn Theatre, CUB Malthouse


Tonight I was very nearly involved in late-night violence on the 67 tram, as an outraged  80-plus woman nearly threw me out the door for not loving El Automovil Gris. Luckily, we both liked the Glass, otherwise there’s no telling what might have happened! At the half-way mark, this festival continues to evoke extreme reactions.

It really is black or white. People love or hate some of these shows. It’s beyond me how some folk scoffed at An Oak Tree, in the same way that my new tram-friend couldn’t fathom that I wasn’t enamoured by Mexican company Theatro De Ciertos Habitantes.

Their show is black and white. It’s a black and film. 

In Japan at the end of the 19th century, live presenters called the Benshi accompanied silent film. Adding voice and narration, the Benshi were often the drawing cards to the screenings as they added context, character and social commentary to these films made far away from Japan. This production is a contemporary interpretation and re-enactment of a Benshi accompanied film. In this case, the 1919 silent film El Automovil Gris, a semi-factual account of a band of thieves who terrorised Mexico City during the Mexican Revolution. The most fascinating thing about the film is that it incorporates the actual film of the gang being executed.

This Benshi commentary freely switches from Japanese to Spanish to English. The subtitles are just as freely interpreted, with changing fonts and languages, which get more and more visually interesting as the film progresses.

It all sounds really interesting – but I just didn’t get it. The performers were faultless, the live upright piano soundtrack was perfect, the idea is unique and there were some wonderfully absurd moments, but to me it was just funny voices, “cross-eyed” acting and laughing at the incongruity of the languages and cultural images. It is funny to see “mother fuckers” as a subtitle on a silent film, as we hear it said in Spanish or Japanese – but was there anything more to it than a series of strange jokes?

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

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