Text & Interview: Alec Coiro
Photo: Olimpia Dior
Images Courtesy of Claire Christerson
There’s a lot to like about Claire Christerson’s Wizard of Oz movie. First of all, it busts out of the category of “movie” the minute you try to put it in there. It’s too much of an art piece to be a movie, but it’s not Andy Warhol looking at a building for 24-hours and it’s not a Kenneth Anger-esque art film either (although that might be a little bit closer to the mark). In fact, it doesn’t even really have a director, as Christerson invited a bunch of the interesting artists she knows (including this one) and invited them to create their own videos to be stitched together. It’s more of a curated series of motion picture creations inspired by a theme. Christerson is herself a very talented and very multimedia artist (a look through her work makes this clear) and thus a perfect curator of this group of artists.
Another thing I always love (and I’ll bet you do as well) is when you go out do something that isn’t one of the four same things that you always go out to do. You always go see a band, or a movie, or a performance, or an opening, but every once in awhile, there’s something that’s a bunch of these things at once or something a little bit different. It seems lately Secret Project Robot is the spot for such an experience, so it was a fitting venue for the Christerson’s premier, which was more than a just movie premier it was a whole Wizard of Oz-based event, as becomes clear in our interview below.
The Wizard of Oz is used to represent so many different things in our culture. What does it signify for you?
To me, it’s the one fantasy film that no matter what age I watch it at, I am left feeling extreme discomfort through out. I remember as a child my mom warned me that the flying monkeys would scare me, but it wasn’t so much the costuming that scared me, but the saturation of all the colors and the acting that really scared me for some reason. I also remember feeling off put about Dorothy being played by a grown woman and feeling sad when the Witch gets melted.
To bring this film into today’s context, I think that you could relate it to our current administration. I am not saying that Trump is OZ, but I think comparing the two is interesting. I wouldn’t really compare OZ to one single person, but rather compare it to our government in general. The idea of someone promising the people “great,” things and not being able to deliver because deep down they are incapable…there is some overlap.
Similarly, The Wizard of Oz has been used as essential reference material for everything from The Wiz to Wild at Heart to Wicked to DJ TheScarecrowFromTheWizardofOzIsHot from your show at Secret Project Robot. (I’m sure I’m leaving out tons.) What about the story do you think it is that makes it so influential?
Well, I think that the story really touches on “the journey,” and having a purpose. The actual story and the movie are completely different and that should be noted. The actual story is much darker, whereas the movie puts a lighter hearted spin on everything. In the book, she’s not even wearing red shoes, she has on silver. I honestly think that the aesthetic of the movie is more powerful than the story itself. I find that I am more fascinated by the production of the movie than the actual movie itself.
There are a number of artists who contributed to the film. Can you give us an idea of what some of those contributions entailed and how you curated and combined them?
I really didn’t want to tell people what to do. I just put the word out and said to do whatever you want. All I did was take what people gave me and put the clips in an order that felt sequentially suitable. I just wanted people to have fun and then laugh at the end when we all watched this crazy new version together.
I honestly think that the aesthetic of the movie is more powerful than the story itself. I find that I am more fascinated by the production of the movie than the actual movie itself.
Can you tell us a little about your art practice outside of this project, and how this film fits in with the rest of your work?
I work in many different mediums, from drawing, painting, photo, sculpture, to video. When I am making drawings and sculptures and certain photos, they are very therapeutic parts of what I do, that tend to be very quiet and serious activities. With other photo and video projects, I enjoy working with groups of people; seeing people become characters of themselves that they didn’t know existed. I think that this film fits in with my practice in that people brought things out of themselves that were new. That is exciting for me to see. I am very serious about having fun and bringing people together and I think that this project succeeded in doing that. Art for me is first and foremost a form of therapy and if people can all have their own little slice of art therapy in a group effort, then something serious has been achieved. Laughing is a really great tool.
Although not the first color film, The Wizard of Oz does represent the dawn of the color era in motion pictures. In this project, do you see yourself harkening back to that bygone era, or looking ahead to a new era where the medium has changed once again?
I don’t know if I see this kind of movie making as a new era, in fact, it feels rather old school to me. I just wanted people to make something and then watch it in a room- not just on the internet. I think that there need to be more kinds of movie and film events happening because it’s an experience! I just liked using the Wizard of OZ as a template because it’s accessible, even if you’ve never even seen it.
The show at Secret Project Robot seems like it was quite an event in and of itself. Can you tell us a little bit about the evening?
I had two screenings in the evening. I also had people set up props from their scenes, and a photo area where you could get your picture taken. I wanted to make it feel like a little museum…a movie memorabilia zone! The screening was great, it was so fun to see people laugh and even cry during the film. To watch people watch their scene in a movie like that and be excited is such a gift. I hope to do another movie soon…it’s just fun…that’s all. I just want to say thanks again to everyone who contributed and came out, it was a blast!