The Grand Bizarre (2018) by Jodie Mack
Review by Andrew Swafford
Before getting into The Grand Bizarre, I should note that this feature was paired with a 20-minute short film I really liked called Those Who Desire. It’s about Spanish competitive pigeon breeding? I thought it was really special. You can hear me talk about why on our third podcast diary.
The Grand Bizarre is a cyclone of images and ideas, presented in the form of avant-garde stop-motion animation. Filmmaker Jodie Mack tirelessly animates textiles, globes, mirrors, suitcases, books, and more, imagining that they have full and complex lives of their own outside of human utility--a different kind of internet of things. Rugs are stacked and unstacked in lightning speed; globes spin concurrently and smash into each other; information streams across the pages of books like data being processed through a supercomputer. And often, all these images are overlaid atop one another at once, as in the image above, a multi-layered stencil of papercraft that Jodie Mack referred to in her Q&A as an “information vortex.”
It’s easy to get lost in the interconnected synapse-firings of The Grand Bizarre, but on a fundamental level, Mack has made a movie about cultural exchange. Textiles, the material basis of much of Mack’s short form work, here serve as a primary case study: in the global marketplace, culturally-specific patterns and color combinations change hands so rapidly that the cultural origin of these patterns becomes invisible to us. A Mexican-style quilt can be bought at any neighborhood Hobby Lobby, but the only way one can call themselves Mexican is if their ancestors were colonized by the Spanish. From Mack’s perspective, seemingly any given cultural artifact is a product of an interconnected world constantly in dialogue (and business) with itself, hence the title (a pun on “Grand Bazaar”). Incessantly globetrotting with no permanence or linear trajectory, much of Mack’s film is shot along airport conveyor belts and on dockyards, with forklifts tetris-ing shipping containers moving in fast-forward. As only avant-garde cinema can, the film gives a sense of everything happening everywhere, right now, all the time.
60 full minutes of this sensation might sound overwhelming at best or exhausting at worst--your mileage may vary--but Mack underpins the film with a sense of rhythm not only through her editing style, but also her music. Just as her brilliant Pink Floyd homage Dusty Stacks of Mom was, The Grand Bizarre is driven by thumping beats, this time of the wonky EDM persuasion. The soundtrack is an incomprehensible assemblage of samples, granting loops of birdcalls and Skype sounds the same level of sonic importance as drums and keys. With about a dozen discreet tracks sprinkled throughout, I’d love the see the soundtrack released as a standalone album--a type of avant-garde Lemonade--but perhaps its fitting that it can’t be unstiched from the tangle of images making up The Grand Bizarre.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say parts of the film left me scratching my head, but just as often these were the parts that granted me lightbulb moments much later on. With The Grand Bizarre, Jodie Mack has truly made a galaxy-brain level film--and I hope it makes its way into this mess of an interconnected world soon.