There can‘t be many more unlikely rock stars around than Laurie Anderson and there have been few major chart successes quite as unlikely as her best-known British hit. ‘0. Superman'. Wail-like singer. dancer. storyteller. stand-up comic and. now. filmmaker. Anderson emerged from New York‘s obscure avant-garde art scene and has built a formidable reputation for her eccentric and electrifying performance art pieces. ller massive seven-hour. multi-media creation United States. given its premiere at the ICA in London in 1983. astounded all who saw it.
Thrives on paradox
Born in Illinois she was playing the violin at the age of five and had a wide-ranging artistic pedigree as critic. sculptress and photographer. before lauching out into her own idiosyncratic version of performance art. She thrives on paradox and diversity. on throwing disparate things together and exploring possibilities. ‘0. Superman'. a chilling exercise in alienation. with its compulsively memorable minimalist tune. came from her Big Science album. which was followed by the release of Mister Heartbreak. a fuller musical backdrop for her continued dissection of the dark
THE AMERICAN DREAM
Laurie Anderson has al 'ays been a law unto herself, spellbinding audiences with her performances. As her typically unconventional film Home ofthe Brave opens in Scotland. she talks to The List.
heartbeat of modern times and
Now. that album and the subsequent tour form the basis ofher first film as a director. Home oft/2e Brave. just receiving a belated British release. An eclectic melange of ‘film.music.electronics. story-telling. dancing. social commentary. animation and everything else I came up with' Home oft/1e Brave is a concert movie with a difference — in fact. Anderson isn't even sure that the film can be called a concert movie at all: ‘I don't think of it as that because it has a lot ofotherthings. . .even the real so-called live concerts are not live. I never did a live concert in my life. because they always have a senSe of some filter ofsound or light or image. Film is projected during the concert. and a lot ofelectronics are used to change my voice. so I didn‘t want to try to document a real event because it never was. in effect. a real event in the first place.‘
The concert was performed in sixty cities around the United States and Japan during 1984. and afterwards. mindful ofthe inherent ephemerality of live work. Anderson decided to create a filmed record ofwhat had taken place. One of her first actions
was to try and interest a director in he; project.
I talked to Martin Scorsese and
Jonathan Demme because The Last Waltz and Stop Making Sense are my two favourite concert films— they are so lively. Both guys said ‘Just make it yourself‘. because I showed them all the little storyboard drawings I had done. and they just went. ‘Well. what would I do?‘ They said ‘Get a good director ofphotography. a loud assistant-director. open your eyes and try it.‘
The plans to film Home ofthe Brave expanded and contracted according to the available finance and the aspirations of Anderson and her producer Paula Mazur. travelling from a 70-minute film to a television programme to a video to the full-length feature which now exists. The first attempt to make the film unravelled three weeks before the beginning ofproduction. when a large slice of the money was withdrawn. Picking themselves up and starting all over. they finally took over an old theatre in Union City. New Jersey. installed a 24-track digital recording system and set to work.
Two years later. and one year after the film‘s American release. Anderson is still musing over this ‘strange and schizophrenic experience’. In her husky.
deliberate. sing-song tones. she explains: ‘I was looking at my own picture day after day after endless day. The real rule here is you should just never take that many pictures of yourself. but I thought well. I can get some distance. I can see that‘s a good performance. that‘s a bad one. that's mediocre. and for a while that worked. But one time. when we were looking at one ofthe songs and I looked at my own face. I thought — ifI ever see this face again in my life I‘m going to kill myself!‘
Anderson describes the film-making process as ‘essentially Jungian‘ and jokes ‘I should be lying down to talk about this. In my dreams I‘m usually wandering in a
fairly poorly lit place. watching
things happen. and I’m usually a bit stupid and naive. Although I'm interested inJung's idea of the three-tiered personality. I never saw it so structurally. so unambiguously. as one night when l was having one
'I trust laughter‘
ofthese dreams. and suddenly I looked straight down and saw myself composing this dream. and sending this other selfwandcring through this series ofpuzzles. 'l‘hat became for me very much like the relationship of myself as a director to myselfas a performer.‘
The film gives Laurie another chance to acknowledge her debt to one ofthe strangest men on the planet. the writer William S. Burroughs. who indulges in a memorably weird. grave little waltz with Anderson in the middle ofthe concert. Burroughs is one fellow artist with whom she is happy to claim an affinity. with a couple of reservations.
‘I appreciate his work. He makes me laugh and I trust laughter because it is physical and you can’t fake it. He loves and uses language very well and mistrusts it completely. in a very Buddhist sense. Bill is a writer who doesn‘t really Lise a pencil. he uses his voice and tells people incredible stories. I only have two problems with him v he likes guns and he doesn‘t like women. I'm only his friend because when we first met he thought I was a boy. It must have been a cruel surprise for him Iateron.‘
Burroughs” simultaneous reverence for and mistrust of language is central to Anderson‘s own playful creations where phrases and sentences are not stone tablets of fixed meaning but the keys to endless free association ofideas. Language. for her. can be alienating or liberating depending on how you say it. In her hands it's also great fun. and. ofcourse. she's right -~ Home of the Brave isn‘t really a concert movie at all. It is a multi—facetcd. unpredictable juggle with language and image; hilariously lunny. yet
deadly serious and a totally unique and compelling spectacle.
Home oft/1e Brave can be seen at the Edinburgh Film/musejrmn .lulv l-—4 and at the Glasgow l’t/rn 'l'lteatreon5
and 6 J ttly. See ( 'inerna 1-1.s-tt.»zngor details.
-4The List 26 June — L) July