Jonathan M. Hall jmhall
Fri Nov 23 23:09:37 EST 2007


The Cinema Cabaret
neo-benshi live film narration

Poets from Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York gather at REDCAT  
to offer a fresh take on the Japanese tradition of benshi?a writer or  
actor who provides live narration and commentary alongside silent  
films. The neo-benshi concept invites writers/performers to choose  
scenes from well-known narrative features or TV shows, mute the  
soundtrack, and re-inscribe the familiar images with new meanings.  
Relying mainly on language and sound, this practice leads to a great  
variety of interventions that range from hilarious deadpan  
ventriloquism to more trenchant re-readings of the original material.

Mon Dec 3 | 8 pm
Jack H. Skirball Screening Series
$15 [students $12]

"Neo-Benshi at its best mashes up subversive written scripts, deft  
acting, and acrobatic mind-eye coordination. ? Steve Dickison,  
Director, The Poetry Center, San Francisco State University

Program curated by Konrad Steiner and Jen Hofer

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
by Nicolas Ray
?A kid from a ?good? family - what makes him tick ... like a bomb??
benshi: Roxi Power Hamilton
title: Rebel with a Pause
"This rebel was in trouble:  gender trouble."

Roxi Power Hamilton is editor of Viz. Inter-Arts:  EVENT.  A Trans- 
Genre Anthology (2007) published through UC Santa Cruz where she  
teaches and organizes the event series, ?Trans-Genre:  Poetry and the  
Inter-Arts.? Tonight she reprises the original 2003 version of her  
first benshi script.  As a poet and performer who likes to cross over  
and make genre trouble, she hopes to put the ?red? back in REDCAT  
with an irreverent look at the many-gendered meanings of our hero's  
red jacket, blood-stained t-shirt, and passionate obsession with the  
Romantic poet, whose middle name (Byron) he bears, in her rendition  
of the film, Rebel With a Pause."

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
by Stephen Spielberg
?The man in the hat is back!?
benshi: Douglas Kearney
"If adventure has a name... who will mispronounce it?"

Douglas Kearney is a poet and performer and teacher. His poetry has  
appeared in journals including Callaloo, Nocturnes, Jubilat, Gulf  
Coast and others; as well as several anthologies, including The  
Ringing Ear, Spoken Word Revolution: Redux, the World Fantasy Award- 
winner Dark Matter: Reading the Bones and Saints of Hysteria which  
features a collaboration between Kearney and Harryette Mullen. He has  
been a featured performer at venues across the country, including the  
New York Public Theater, the Orpheum in Minneapolis, Locus Arts in  
San Francisco and the World Stage in Los Angeles and has received  
commissions from the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis and the Studio  
Museum in Harlem to create poetry in response to art installations.  
His first full-length collection of poetry, Fear, Some was published  
by Red Hen Press in 2006.

Vive L?Amour (Original Title: Ai qing wan sui, 1994)
?Tenderness. Innocence. Sadness?
by Tsai Ming-liang
benshi: Stephanie Young
".. this empty real estate"

Stephanie Young lives and works in Oakland, CA. She edited Bay  
Poetics (Faux Press, 2006) and her book of poetry is Telling the  
Future Off (Tougher Disguises, 2050). Collaborative online projects  
include & 
blog. Sources for this piece include YouTube video from Baghdad,, Imperial Life in the Emerald City (Rajiv  
Chandrasekaran, Knopf, 2006) Feelings Are Facts (Yvonne Rainer, MIT,  
2006) and Precarious Life (Judith Butler, Verso, 2004).

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
by Robert Aldrich
?Blood red kisses! White hot thrills! Mickey Spillane's latest H-bomb!?
benshi:  Jen Hofer
?In these extreme noir days, lit with deadly x-ray
brightness, which is darker: the shadow or the light??

Jen Hofer?s recent and forthcoming books are a translation of Laura  
Sol?rzano?s lobo de labio (Action Books), The Route (Atelos, in  
collaboration with Patrick Durgin), a translation of books two and  
three of Dolores Dorantes by Dolores Dorantes (Counterpath and  
Kenning Editions), and a sequence of anti-war-manifesto poems titled  
one (Palm Press), which will include the text version of this  
performance. She is a member of the Little Fakers urban marionette  
collective (, and is a founder of  
the City of Angels Ladies? Bicycling Association, also known as The  
Whirly Girls.

Poison (Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, aired October 5th, 1958)
A man lying in bed discovers something on his stomach.
benshi:  Jennifer Nellis
"Take the audience back in time, to when movements were fashionable."

Jennifer Nellis grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and spent her twenties  
gallivanting across the western United States.  She recently  
graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College where  
she was introduced to movie-telling, the potential of digital poetry,  
and recording electromagnetic fields. Her picture poems can be viewed  
in the forthcoming issue of Cricket Online Review.

Minority Report (2002)
by Steven Spielberg
?What would you do if you were accused of a murder you had not  
committed ... yet??
benshi: Konrad Steiner
?Tom, Tom, the piper?s son
In limbo waits ?til the next round come.

Konrad Steiner has been involved with the poetics of filmmaking since  
shooting his first 16mm short in 1980.  His films have been screened  
at festivals, universities and micro-cinemas in the US, Europe, Japan  
and Korea. He has a strong interest in collaborative and performative  
cinema and has worked with numerous musicians and poets to develop  
and exhibit work in this area, both as a curator and producer.  He  
curates independently at various venues, including San Francisco  
Cinematheque (2003-2006) and currently together with Irina Leimbacher  
at kino21, a screening series in San Francisco which aims to present  
?provocative, politically astute and formally challenging film, video  
and performance arts.?

Uzumaki (2000)
?Yes there are vortexes, and they kill people?
benshi: Nada Gordon
title: SPIRAL: an Operetta
?Eerie! Dizzying! SPIRAL will twist your view of reality?

Nada Gordon is the author of four books of poetry -- foriegnn bodie,  
Are Not Our Lowing Heifers Sleeker Than Night-Swollen Mushrooms?, V.  
Imp,  and the recently released Folly.  With Gary Sullivan, she wrote  
an e-pistolary non-fiction novel, Swoon. Fascinations include garment  
construction, butoh, bellydance, song, and urban spelunking. She  
lives in Brooklyn, NY. Investigate her blog at http://

Satyricon (1969)
by Federico Fellini
?an expansive epic, [a] dream-like mess of a movie!?
benshi: Eileen Myles
?Funny how the Roman Empire feels like home!?

Eileen Myles has claimed Satyricon as her favorite film since she saw  
it in a drive-in in Massachusetts in 1969. This 'flick' permanently  
set the bar at a wide and splashy low that she would aspire to for  
much of her career. She's a new Angeleno, here by way of San Diego  
and New York. She has written many books, given many readings around  
this world of ours. She's now learning to write a poem on her knee in  
traffic jams. ?LA is a very relaxing city, I think,?  says Myles with  
a dazed grin.

Curator?s Notes

          Putting the Artifice back in Art.

         The benshi, a Japanese term meaning film-teller, thrived in  
several Far East Asian nations during the silent film era.  These  
artists were both actors and writers, who created a script that they  
used as spoken accompaniment to silent films.  The traditional film- 
teller?s relation to the movie could be complex, shifting between  
levels of narration, voice characterization and commentary. The  
benshi were stars in Japan, even more than screen actors were, while  
the cinema was still theater plus (moving) photography. Indeed, their  
professional organization was strong enough to actually forestall the  
introduction of sound cinema technology into the production stream  
from studio to theater by several years.
           More recently, Midori Sawato has been preserving this  
tradition through her travels and performances in Japan and the  
West.  Sawato is an accomplished performer who was taught in the  
1970s by the last benshi of his generation, Shunsui Matsuda.  At  
Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley during the fall of 2002, she  
narrated (in Japanese) several silent films and generously answered  
questions from the curious and admiring audience. It was this  
occasion that inspired several San Francisco filmmakers and writers  
to try out the practice using modern film clips with sound muted;  
this first neo-benshi show took place on November 29th 2003 at Craig  
Baldwin's Other Cinema.
          The successes of that evening proved the concept could be  
adapted to a new sensibility.  In the last four years, writers,  
filmmakers and musicians have explored this latter-day art of live  
film narration at shows in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles.  
In addition to Sawato?s own tours with Japanese classics, we have  
been made aware of other kindred, transplanted practices and  
productions including Walter Lew?s movie telling pieces going back to  
the 1990s, El Autom?vil Gris (2003) by Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes  
(Mexico City), and Canadian Guy Maddin?s recent benshi/foley/ 
orchestral extravaganza Brand Upon the Brain (2006). Prerecorded   
cousins of this activity include Jay Ward?s Fractured Flickers  
variety show in the mid-1960s, Woody Allen?s What?s Up Tiger Lily  
(1966), a silly romp through a Japanese gangster film, and  
situationist Ren? Vi?net?s Can Dialectics Break Bricks (1973), a full- 
length d?tournement of a martial arts action film, and of course the  
well-known cable heckletainment show, Mystery Science Theater 3000.
          Our contemporary version of this practice departs from the  
straightforward narrative role of the benshi, yet is quite simply  
conceived.  The process entails taking scenes from narrative features  
or TV shows and re-inscribing them with new meanings using words and  
sounds of our own devising. Such a plain concept surprisingly yields  
a great variety of approaches. The scale of intervention runs from  
not changing a frame or word of the original to re-cutting an entire  
film down to a digest version, playing and singing along with the  
star, a paranoiac sabotage of the original video text, to the  
implanting of new meaning into a cold war morality tale. Someday  
perhaps we will have kino-karaoke ? for now, we have neo-benshi, a  
semi-reverent, semi-irreverent, critical and comic way of talking  
back to the talking pictures.

? Konrad Steiner  and Jen Hofer

The Jack H. Skirball Screening Series is curated by Steve Anker and  
B?r?nice Reynaud



Nov. 26: Alchemical Dreams: The Short Films of Harry Smith
Dec 10: Peter Hutton: At Sea

REDCAT, CalArts? downtown center for innovative visual, performing  
and media arts, is located at the corner of W. 2nd St. and S. Hope  
St., inside the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex. Tickets may be  
purchased at the REDCAT box office?located at the corner of 2nd and  
Hope Streets, or by calling 213.237.2800, or at .

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