dir. Anne Robertson
Plays Wed Nov 29 at the Little Theatre.
LIFE JUST BREAKS your heart, and Anne Robertson's work is life itself. Since 1979, Anne Robertson, a diagnosed manic-depressive and borderline schizophrenic, has kept a Super-8 diary. (She originally intended it as a five-year diary, explaining, "I figured if Mao Zedong could make a five-year plan to change all of China, then... I could probably make one to change myself.") The subjects of this now-labyrinthine work are those you might expect to find in any diary: the colors of the day, the growth of favorite plants (Robertson is an avid organic gardener), visits from friends. A drive to a relative's house or a walk through the woods may occupy a whole day; fractured close-ups of Robertson talking to the camera may telescope months at a time. Two of her more amusing ongoing issues are an obsession with her wildly fluctuating weight, and anguish over her own smoking habit.
Like most truly great art, the prosaic nature of the subject matter serves to anchor a larger meditation on the fearsome topic of life itself. Robertson accomplishes this meditation with multiple layers of narration. Often, there is a synchronous track recorded at the time of the filming itself, comprising commentary on the imagery or unfiltered thoughts. To this track, Robertson adds a second layer of commentary on tape, usually recorded later and more self-consciously interpretive than the original track. Finally, if she is able, she accompanies the whole presentation live, via microphone, from the audience.
That Robertson's life has not gone according to plan is, of course, the fundamental theme of her Super-8 Diary. Aside from her own troubles with her mental health, there are deaths, losses, and elaborate confusions that invade with the heartless conviction of fate itself. One year-long record deals largely with the death of her niece; the resultant meditation--culminating in Robertson asserting her right to grieve--is among the most moving cinematic works I've ever seen.
That Robertson is self-indulgent goes without question. Yet her indulgence never seems less than earned; her brazenness and odd, muted charm keep things surprisingly fresh. Most importantly, Robertson's profound attachment to life itself (as refined though an extraordinary photographic eye) ensures that the work ultimately resonates with the rhythm of the beating heart, with that very thing which separates the living from the dead.