Christina Catherine Martinez on Tamara Rosenblum

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The dads are out. The directors are there.

In the middle of Tamara Rosenblum Paraiso, 2021, a four-channel video installation playing on loop in an upstairs gallery of the Vincent Price Art Museum, a silver-haired man in a scarecrow costume has pinned himself to a tree. The wind picks up the tufts of straw sticking out of his baggy shirt and pointed hat, whipping them into his face. The humor tackles that nebulous space between the actor and their archetype’s vessel, asking the question, do scarecrows itch? He plucks wisps of straw from his eyes as the performer’s voice comes from behind the camera: “Move aside now, dad!”

As the film progresses, Rosenblum continues to direct his father, Chilean actor and director Gregorio Rosenblum, against homemade sets made with markers and paper, through a range of ancient character types, including those of cowboy, clown, former ship’s captain, an Italian widow, and other more subtle and inscrutable characters. At one point, a Gregorio in his pajamas sits in his bedroom while his daughter gives him a manicure. He reminisces about his days as a young actor. “All gays and the public tried to win me over,” he said, shaking a fan with a tense queen. The thumbnail matches a character listed in the show’s wall text as “aging actor”. Screens show various close-ups of her beautiful, wrinkled face, then cut to a blurry TV clip from the soap opera A life to live (1968-2012), featuring a significantly younger Gregorio. The identity is faked, but the film executes this concept with a light heart. Instead of the emotional manipulations endemic to some sort of fetishistic, pop-cultural idea of ​​actor-director dynamics, we have two disciplined artists in play – dropping masks, breaking fourth walls and self-reflectively commenting on the situation at hand. tomorrow. Tamara and Gregorio switch seamlessly between their different roles – from father/director to actor/director to daughter/actor and back again – in tumbling succession. It cuts the wind from a notion of gravity that I had once naively associated with acting, that it has to hurt.

Gregorio sits behind the helm of a ship in an inflatable kiddie pool. Tamara asks her father which ocean they are crossing. “Uh . . . the Pacific?” he answers. “I trust my instrument,” he says of his body without irony, just before Tamara throws a giant fish at him. At one point, Gregorio takes a full minute to pull back a black curtain and face the camera. During these long periods of immobility, he is fascinating to watch, the solidity of his instrument keeping everything just on this side of the camp. Even when he cries in drag, we are touched.

I thought that in the absence of a father, a director justifies the abdication of control over his inner life. When the eponymous heroine of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s television series Flea bag (2016-2019) collapses in a confessional, wailing at the “hot priest” – an absent dad type in his own way – his schizo plea for a guiding authority figure reflects the decision fatigue that runs through like a deal these consciously performative self-moments. “I want someone to tell me what to eat, what to love, what to hate, what to rage!” she’s crying. A director does that, I thought. I became an actor because I used to fantasize about letting go of control. Turns out I just needed someone to play with.

In the final vignette, Gregorio the Clown pretends to ice-fish in front of a snowy log cabin. Her hunched posture, crisp white makeup, and seedy rainbow duds all convey the visual codes of pity. After a fight with the phantom weight at the end of his pole, he pulls out a message in a bottle and reads it aloud: “Don’t look for us; we have already found paradise.” He repeats the phrase, trying different tones and accents, performing a solo twist on Sanford Meisner’s repeat exercise. Words approach semantic satiety, to the point where reiteration of a word or phrase causes it to temporarily lose all meaning to the listener, dissolving into pure sound. The film cuts to black before arriving.

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