Garden Rant
Gardening While Intoxicated
Buffalo Spree


A year ago, Licata became the fourth member of a group of garden bloggers with an attitude. Garden Rant one of my favorites: A blend of gossip, news, crusade and, yes, raw rant, it blows the cobwebs out of gardening's mustier corners.

–Adrian Higgins,
Washington Post

... co-curators Elizabeth Licata and Amy Cappellazzo have magnificently transcended the limitations of what is, at bottom, a show of books. ...Preciousness—the bane of such exhibitions—is nowhere in evidence.

–Richard Huntington,
Buffalo News

"Garden Walk Buffalo: A Celebration of Urban Gardens," is a tour guide into dozens of gardens during the annual event held the last full weekend in July. It's knowingly written by Buffalo Spree editor Elizabeth Licata, and packed with gorgeous photographs...

–Mark Sommer,
Buffalo News

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Art Writer

"Scoring Film"

in Afterimage, July, 1998

With De Profundis, independent filmmaker Lawrence Brose gives us 65 non-narrative minutes of dizzying sensory excess. This cinematic treatment of Oscar Wilde's prison letter is being read almost exclusively by many as a bravura defiance of gay assimilation into "normal" society. But what is most uncompromising about the film--and for me what leaves the most lasting impression--is Brose's intensive use of cinema as physical sensation and spectacle. Every formal element is multi-layered; there is always more to see, to hear, and to comprehend than seems possible at the moment. Although there are clear precursors to this aesthetic in the work of Jack Smith, Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, and others, Brose adds a coherent and serious political discourse to the tradition. But far from producing a gay manifesto, Brose's complex interweavings of sound and imagery prompt a number of diverse aesthetic, sociopolitical, and emotional interpretations. The situation is further enriched by the presence of avant garde composer Frederic Rzewski's composition for the Wilde text, which serves as a soundtrack for most of the film. As especially commissioned new music, it is one of a series of such collaborations Brose has initiated, part of an important body of work that deserves its own critical treatment.

The film is divided into three distinct sections. The first combines a montage of imagery from home movies and early gay porn with a soundtrack of Oscar Wilde aphorisms. The aphorisms, spoken by performer Agnes de Garron, include such familiar Wilde sayings as "Being natural is simply the most irritating pose I know," "No crime is vulgar but all vulgarity is a crime," etc. The readings are looped and mixed in such a way that it becomes a medley of sound rather similar to Steve Reich's 1965 composition "Come Out." The imagery in this segment is mostly heavily manipulated home movie and early porn clips, which fragment and repeat much as the sound does. The home movie clips are singular. An often-repeated scene includes a heavyset older man standing next to a much shorter and smaller teenage boy; both are in vintage bathing suits and smiling. Brose exploits the surreptitious feel of this early transgressive media by feeding it to us in glimpses, over and over again.

For Part II, the longest segment and the real heart of the film, Brose asked Rzewski to create a musical setting for the Wilde prison letter. Rzewski's composition is the sole soundtrack for this segment, dramatically slowing the film to a somber and elegiac pace. The composer reads segments of the letter while accompanying himself on piano, occasionally adding other vocal and percussive elements. Imagery for this segment includes performances by Agnes de Garron as well as by the Radical Faeries, Leon Ko, Mark Miller/Aleksandra, and Keisha Lorraine. In strong contrast to the earlier sound, Rzewski's measured reading of the Wilde text carries a solemn weight of sternly repressed emotion. It's as though the despairing lament (it starts out, "Suffering is one very long moment") is reined in by Rzewski's heavily structured, intermittent presentation but still given plenty of room to cast its melancholy shadow.

If Rzewski is very mildly working against the Wilde text, strengthening its impact through downplaying its gloomy extravagance, Brose is quite obviously subverting Wilde's repentant meaning through his frequent use of Bacchanalian Radical Faerie and drag queen footage. On the screen, the outcasts are celebrating their difference, while on the soundtrack Wilde bitterly regrets his folly in asserting his own. In sharp contrast to the Faerie footage, Brose also includes footage of de Garron in male drag, walking through a deserted industrial landscape; this imagery melds seamlessly with the Wilde text, particularly in its strongest moments: "Morality does not help me..I am one of those who are made for exceptions, not for laws...Religion does not help me. The faith that others give to what is unseen, I give to what can touch and look at...Reason does not help me..." etc.

Through including both types of footage, Brose further acknowledges the essential dichotomy of both Wilde and his film: the light frothy aphorisms versus the doom-laden letter. There are at least two subtexts here. On one hand, obviously, Wilde's despair was brought about through outside persecution; if not for his imprisonment, he might have been writing another Lady Windemere's Fan. But another equally valid conclusion is that Brose revels in the shared, dark, underground elements shared by many of his chosen scenarios. The film starts in a dark movie theater (a spoken prologue is heard over chemically treated leader), and goes on to include obscure footage from the past, staged solitary walks, words smuggled out of prison, and midnight dances, returning in the end to the private footage of people probably long dead.

Brose has said he feels that cinema itself is an underworld, and given the cinematic lineage of his aesthetic, it's no surprise that his film is saturated with this sense of the private made momentarily public. It is also saturated with chemical manipulations and other technical interventions which heighten our sense of Brose's intensely personal relationship with the material qualities of film. Months were spent in the studio to create a result that must be called painterly, as hackneyed as that designation has become. Much of the imagery pulses with color; figures emerge and recede into spreading pools of color. Brose also uses such time-honored strategies as scratching and solarizing, demonstrating that there is still visual pleasure and technical innovation to be gleaned through working with the physical skin of film.

While the pace of the central segment of the film gives you time to enjoy its visual beauty, Part III presents a visual and sonic cacophony. The earlier home movie and porn elements return along with some drag clips but are speeded up with rapid-fire editing and an extremely busy soundtrack containing simultaneous narrations from de Garron, Ken Cooper, and Tom Chomont. In comparison to what has gone before, there seems to be less to pay attention to here, because elements are very nearly incomprehensible (the sound), or repeated enough (the imagery) to dull sensation. This section tears us abruptly away from Wilde's world, bringing us into the media-overloaded pace of the present. It also takes the more sedately paced sound composition of the first section to a radical extreme (composer Douglas Cohen collaborated with Brose in creating both these soundtracks).

The striking difference between the central section and parts I and III of De Profundis is a significant testament to Brose's attitude toward interpretation. He makes choices that force the viewer to choose, or, even better, to accept paradox. Probably the strongest-felt principle in Brose's working philosophy is his determination to allow multiplicity, to resist defining ideologies. While I applaud Brose's decision to embrace paradox, I also feel free to choose the first and second sections of the film, particularly the second, as those which most successfully and beautifully express that paradox. Although the final section is an effective coda, I wondered how a different selection of imagery would have moved the film into a more spectacular finish (spectacle is--quite rightly--an end in itself for this filmmaker). Brose chose his ending strategy as one that would provide a stark contrast with the subverted romanticism of the Wilde prison text, but the contrast also serves to showcase the depth and power of Rzewski and Brose's collaboration. Their approaches to Wilde both differ and complement. The filmmaker--as in his earlier Film for Music for Film series--demonstrates a brilliant sensitivity to the composer's work, creating a visual accompaniment which is inextricable from the soundtrack, yet presents exciting alternatives.

Anyone who has seen Brose's work with composers John Cage, Virgil Thompson, Yvar Mikhashoff and others in the earlier series knows his ability to make imagery for music which is consummately personal yet equally responsive to the compositions. With the second section of this remarkable film, Brose hits a high point in his successful achievement of such difficult collaborations. Other viewers will probably make very different choices in responding to De Profundis. That, too, is Brose's triumph.

Afterimage, July, 1998

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