It has begun. The 15th, or quindecennial edition of the Tribeca Film Festival has finally arrived. But as you can see by my use of the term quindecennial, I am a bad boy who doesn’t play by the rules. Going to Tribeca to watch a Film is far too obvious a move on the opening day of the Festival. Instead, I head downtown, farther So than Soho, deeper Be than Tribeca, to the part of Manhattan that can’t be contained by a mere grid. Down where there is no W27th St or E97th; where the streets have names like Beaver Street and Old Slip and Gouverneur Lane. Down there, about a block away from the tavern where George Washington once had a beer, the mad geniuses visionaries of Penrose Studios are demonstrating the latest in technological storytelling.
The name of the piece is “Allumette.” One of the visual artistes helps me put on the headset, and I am immersed in a little cloud village. The style is similar to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964), and I start looking around for Yukon Cornelius when a flying boat arrives. There are little doll people inside and – well, I don’t want to spoil it for you. Suffice to say that there is an actual story, one that gets a little dark, as fairy tales can do. There is a little matchstick girl and a blind man and a tragedy and whatnot. The people are rendered so vividly that I want to pick one up and poke it like a Pillsbury Doughboy. The whole thing runs 15 or 20 minutes and I am sweating inside my VR headset by the time it’s over. This is the best (and first) VR movie I have ever experienced. Well done, Eugene Chung and gang.
After getting lost in Lower Manhattan (shut up, it’s confusing down there) I finally ‘make the scene’ in Tribeca. The Festival Hub isn’t open yet, but I have an appointment to view something called “Seances.” Unfortunately, there are already people in there, so I have a look around.
There is an interesting looking VR type thing about solitary confinement, but they are still setting up. The same goes for a piece about the northern white rhinoceros. But another one is ready for business.
It’s called “The Turning Forest.” Created by Oscar Raby, VRTOV studio and BBC Research & Development, it’s – yes – another fairy tale. The helper person puts the VR goggles on me, and noise-cancelling headphones, and also a sort of lightweight backpack. I’m sitting on a stool, and when the show starts, the stool turns into a rock in a psychedelic forest. The resolution is not as crisp as “Allumette,” and I can’t walk around, but it’s still pretty convincing. The audio is startlingly clear – little splashes and forest sounds – but while Penrose Studios used audio cues to focus attention to the story, with this piece the sound effects are just for atmosphere. Soon a monster appears. I can feel it’s heavy tread before it even arrives – the backpack thing I’m wearing sort of pulsates. The creature is a very friendly, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ type of monster, with large teeth that emit music. I want to have a VR mallet so I can play the teeth like a marimba, but I guess that sort of thing is still in the future. Soon the creature takes me on a ride to an icy island. But I’m still sweating, what with the goggles and the headphones and the backpack and all. These guys definitely need to add a refrigeration unit for the full experience. Nevertheless, it is definitely the second best VR movie I have ever witnessed.
Finally, I’m ready for my seance. Created by Canadian lunatic/genius cult filmmaker Guy Maddin and brothers Evan and Galen Johnson, “Seances” is a nightmare machine that manufactures a one-time only bespoke cinematic experience. Inside the tiny eight-seat theater, there is a table in front of a screen. The viewer selects several film clips by pushing around small film still avatars on the table. Then the computer puts together a 15-minute movie that may or may not include the selected scenes. The movie is whimsically titled, shown once only, and is never seen again. I got to see a movie called “Plunge the Milky Plunger.” It starred Charlotte Rampling and had something do with volcanoes or maybe a woman with stigmata. The net effect of the various specially made clips and fake silent film intertitles was an experience like falling asleep in front of a TV while watching “Nanook of the North,” waking up briefly during “Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster,” and falling asleep again while re-runs of “McHale’s Navy” play. But don’t take my word for it: there’s a web version at Seances. Depending on your taste, it will have you either smashing your computer to bits or wasting 12 hours of your life, in 15-minute increments.
Later, I strolled up to Washington Square Park, where I was surprised to find another Virtual Reality experience. This one had a soundtrack by Vampire Weekend and a cameo appearance by Rosario Dawson. It starred an old socialist making a speech in the park. The twist was that the dude was considered a credible candidate for President. Considering that premise too far-fetched, I skipped the rest of “Rally for Bernie” and caught a train out of there.
We’ll be discussing more movies about buildings and food.. on the next TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL DISPATCH.