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Monica BreenCritique written by Monica Breen.


When examining this work, it's important to realize that this is a single example drawn from our critique on Thursday October 10, 2008.

On a typical critique day, the department will discuss four students work. In this process each students' critique will deal with both a written and group discussion component.


Other Featured Designers




Featured designer Zak Ostrowski - aka - "Beverly Fre$h" ('08)

Submitted for critique, thursday October 10, 2008.

Video by Beverly Fre$h
Critique by Monica Breen

In a dark and uninviting room, Zak Ostrowski removes his turquoise leather jacket and seats himself in front of a silver platter. After a brief and motionless pause, Zak leans to the floor beside the table to retrieve a plastic bag. From out of the bag and onto the silver platter, he slides a bat carcass. With the bat on it's back, he uses his surgically gloved hands to gently spread it's wings and then slices open it's torso with an exact-o-knife. After the bat is cut open, Zak retrieves another bag which contains marijuana. He dumps the clumped leaves on the silver platter next to the bat, and crumbles them with his fingers. He then stuffs the marijuana pieces into the life-less bat. Finally, Zak sews the bat carcass closed, securing the marijuana inside. For a moment, the camera cuts back to Zak staring blank-face into the camera. Finally, the bat's wings are closed again and the shot fades to darkness as the bat carcass is left much like it was in the beginning of the film, only slightly mangled and filled with weed.

With it's contrasty lighting and theremin soundtrack, the video nods to cult horror film. The visual and audio cues correlate the feel of the films to those like The Bride of Frankenstein and The Day the Earth Stood Still, which in turn, imbues the work with a certain "campiness" and humor. The sound also adds a "sweetness" to an otherwise gruesome act. However, because of the short length of the film, lack of character development and no true narrative structure, this video falls far from the arms of Hollywood and into the arms of experimental cinema. Girls, Ganja, and Guano can be couched almost perfectly in the description of the "New American Cinema" as "oblique take on narrative, one based on abstraction, camp and minimalism". [Wikipedia]

The tradition of experimental or avant-garde film breaks from the rules of the established rule of the medium (Hollywood) and it is free from restraints of the any status-quo within medium. On a meta-theoretical level, avant-garde film is a reaction to events of current historical significance.

The film "Meshes of the Afternoon" was a ________ and is exemplary of the avant-garde tradition in film. Maya Deren wrote and directed this short film with her husband Alexander Hammid. It uses the formal elements of film and instrument of camera to imbue meaning to the work. Deren was known to "attack" Hollywood for it's "artistic, political and economic monopoly over American cinema." has been a major obstacle to the definition and development of motion pictures as a creative fine-art form." She set herself in opposition to the Hollywood film industry's standards and practices." [Points of Resistance By Lauren Rabinovitz]

Hollywood film production rebounded and reached its profitable peak of efficiency during the years 1943 to 1946 - a full decade and more after the rise of sound film production, now that the technical challenges of the early 30s sound era were far behind.
As Rudolph Arnheim points out in his book Film as Art, a standard of film theory, his thesis is based on the fact that particular virtues of film as art derive from an exploitation of limitation s of the medium (absence of sound, color, lack of depth, etc...) and that mechanical advancement has led to a loss of artistry.

Almost five minutes of the six minute Girls, Ganja, and Guano is a series of zooms and close-ups of the ritualistic act of cutting, stuffing and sewing of the bat carcass. There is little character development. However, at the beginning of the film Zak enters wearing a turquoise leather jacket, and his removal of the jacket is emphasized through a brief and abrupt monologue edit with corresponding sounds. Until we move to the close-up of the bat, and subsequent cutting, stuffing and sewing, the film appears dream-like by the use of editing, slow motion and reverse video. By this, there is a possibility that a transformation has taken place before the ritual.

Also, there are two important moments at the end of the film. There is one shot that looks like an attempt at showing Zac's point of view. There is also a moment where Zac finishes his ritual, and he looks directly into the camera, breaking the social code.

"The film theorist Christian Metz made an analogy between the cinema screen and a mirror (Metz 1975), arguing that through identifying with the gaze of the camera, the cinema spectator re-enacts what the psychoanalytic theorist Jacques Lacan called 'the mirror stage', a stage at which looking into the mirror allows the infant to see itself for the first time as other - a significant step in ego formation."

"In relation to film and television narrative, camera treatment is called 'subjective' when the viewer is treated as a participant, as when:

* the camera is addressed directly; or
* when the camera imitates the viewpoint or movement of a character (a 'point-of-view' shot); here we are shown not only what a character sees, but how he or she sees it.; or
* the arms or legs of an off-frame participant are shown in the lower part of the frame as if they were those of the viewer (one parody of this technique involved putting spectacles in front of the lens!). "

It is Beverly Fresh that sits at the table, but when his jacket is removed, I think it is Zak. Beverly fresh leaves Zak at the table, perhaps a moment where Zak gains distance from the character BF$H and can examine it. Not much character development might lead us to believe it is just a person, a representation of any person, sitting at the table.

Current thinking in psycology, and in turn in film theory, addresses the idea of intersubjectivity. There is not one reality, but rather a reality that exists in the spaces between people. This is applied to cinema by consideration that film and video does not create a kind of objectified external universe void of temporalities and spatiality's that hold the intersubjective world together. There is osmosis between the screen and the viewer, and this is where the corporeal and intellectual transaction takes place.

Intersubjectivity: not one reality, how people's reality

and what moves it into a strange category, is the amount of time spent on the ACT of dissecting the carcass, breaking-up the marijuana and sewing it back into the carcass. It's the majority of the film. Thinking back to Italian Realism, This is less about the character and more about the act. Cutting open a bat carcass and sewing weed into a bloody bat is socially deviant behavior. Freud would say that Zak is a victim of social repressions, and this is his way of acting out the needs of man. But recent concepts of human abnormality site deviant behavior as not always a sign of mental illness.

But in Terry Eagleton's After Theory, he discusses that the postmodern prejudice against norms, unities and consensuses is a politically catastrophic one. "In this social order, then, you can no longer have bohemian rebels or revolutionary avant-garde's because they no longer have anything to blow up. Their top-hatted, frock-coated, easily outraged enemy has evaporated. Instead, the non-normative has become the norm. [pg 16]

So is the deviant behavior in the film a snub to the bourgeois? Or is it simply a gross out? Why are we left to look at this non-sensical ritual of sorts for over five minutes? Are we to find beauty in the madness? See it as a symbol, like the eye being sliced in Un Chien Andalou, [they were fascinated by what the psyche could create, and decided to write a script based on the concept of suppressed human emotions.]

I think one of the most successful areas of this film is the contrast of the grotesque act of cutting open a carcass/sewing it up to the loving way in which the carcass is handled. Along with the music, this creates a place for possible character development.

Fifty years after the advent of the motion picture, Henry Miller wrote the following:

Of what are these young films dreaming? Do they dream with mirrored surfaces reflecting only the torpor of life? Is art merely the reflection of life? At what level does art begin to transmogrify life? An eastern myth has it that the universe is supported on the back of a huge tortoise. It says nothing about he turtle performing acrobatic stunts. The tortoise simply swims in the wake of creation. In a similar fashion life may be said to sustain art. Where we seek reflection only, there we find the red herring. (P. 4 Art In Cinema)


It is very important to note that no animals were killed or injured to produce this piece.


Other significant work by Zak Ostrowski


Zak Ostrowski 01
Zak Ostrowski
Poster, 60"x78", giclée print,2007.

Zak Ostrowski 04
Zak Ostrowski
Poster, 60"x78", giclée print,2007.


Zak Ostrowski 02
Zak Ostrowski
Poster, 60"x78", giclée print,2007.


Zak Ostrowski 02
Zak Ostrowski
Poster, 60"x78", giclée print,2007.



Watch Zak Discuss His Work in Depth




Other Featured Designers

Mike Daines, critiqued by Jordan Gushwa
Riah Buchanan, critiqued by Mark Heggen