Choral Fantasy

29 minutes, 1986

  Still from Choral Fantasy, 1986

Still from Choral Fantasy, 1986

  Still from Choral Fantasy, 1986

Still from Choral Fantasy, 1986

Credits:

Produced, Written, and Directed by Gary Popovich

Performers: Andrew Adach, Predrag Nedeljkovic, Shae Popovich, Kathleen Richardson, Camille Turner, Zlatko Trpkovski

Cinematography by Philip Hoffman

Music Composed and Sound Recorded by Randall Smith

Assistant Director: Louise Lebeau

Production Assistants: Mike Rosiana, Carol Wladyka, Maureen Chill

Sound Mixing: Tim Griffin

Negative Cutting: Piroska Hollo

Special Thanks To: Mike Hoolboom, Jeffrey Paull, Richard Kerr, Ron Lamont, Jack Morbin, Beth Schier, Bob Collings and Pos, Gary Swaffield, Robin Armstrong, Alfred Beliveau, Dave Bottrill, Brian Parker
Produced with the Assistance of The Ontario Arts Council and The National Film Board of Canada

Premiered at The Funnel, Toronto, 1987

I was learning how to work with a small crew and actors, and putting everybody through the theory I was reading. I imagined I was tutoring my male gaze.
— Gary Popovich

In Choral Fantasy, Gary Popovich launches himself into that discourse which links the Freudian ‘Psychology of the Unconscious’ with the linguistic and semiotic sciences. Screened during a series entitled Post-Modernism and Film, it presents an illustration of theoretical positions enunciated by Lacan, Kristeva, Foucault, Derrida et al through a sequence of images related to an incident.

This incident—a recalled incident—is a visit to a table-dancing bar by someone referred to as ‘you’ in the narrative. Presumably it is an autobiographical reference, for we learn that ‘you’ has been persuaded by two men to make a film about a table-dancer. Once in the bar, the filmmaker hired one of the girls to dance for him. We don’t see this event, though we see partial, ritualistic, re-enactments of it. Thus, the subject of the film is the institutionalized voyeurism of the strip show. As well, it is about the institutionalized voyeurism of the film audience and/or about any human looking (and the guilt entailed).

Choral Fantasy establishes such polyvalent effects by the choral chant which begins the film. A woman's voice repeats, “I, had I eyed, I’d eye I” (the self of Lacan’s mirror stage) while we watch an empty, flickering screen. As the chant continues, and is distorted through digital feedback, it becomes a symbol for Kristeva’s “semiotic chora” and for the distortions that encumber the guilty experience of the self as it looks.

Popovich wants to ensure that we in the film audience feel that guilt, and he uses the women in the film to that end. While one woman reads the anxious narrative of the visit to the bar, another stares, in a medium close-up, directly at the audience in the theatre. This image reinforces the narrative that focuses on the gazes, glances, looks that passed between the watcher and the dancer. It also acts as a critical counterpoint to the descriptive narrative of the ersatz seduction of the table-dance.

Later, in a re-enactment of the incident in question, a third woman mimes a strip-dance. Her face reflects an ever-increasing fear until finally she cowers behind some clothing. This is a particularly problematic sequence, for here we are manipulated into expecting some sort of violence or violation. We are bound to be stimulated by our visual expectations and, as Popovich and his theoreticians would have it, we are bound to feel guilt. At the same time, the sequence states one of the central issues Popovich wants to raise. This is woman, being ‘herself-as-she-is-seen,’ pinned down by the expectations of the male gaze.

Next, a blind man and his companion-guide go to a strip joint. We watch them, in colour and solarized effects (the sequences with the women are mostly black and white), watching what we presume are strippers (though we don’t see them). We see the men’s gazes as the dancers might see them—leering, almost drooling.

A third man, Eddy, shouts nonsense, argues with his girlfriend and wanders off in to a playground where he slides down a tubular slide, masturbating. Intercut with this are very brief shots of a woman, apparently naked and holding a child. This is the crucial sequence in the film, suggestive of the all too brief, barely remembered relationship of mother and child that, once split, lays the basis for the self. It is a Lacanian self, Popovich contends, that looks and reproduces the character of the original fissure in its gaze.

Ultimately we see Eddy staring up at his girlfriend standing in a window. She doesn’t acknowledge his gaze. This final exemplum of the agony of looking seems to leave us plunged in the solipsistic world of the voyeur—and mired with the dilemmas into which our ‘scopic’ drives plunge us, even as we watch the film.

Michael Collins, Vanguard Magazine, 1987