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Robert Todd

May 24, 2008

Rising Tide, 2004

rising_tide.gifIn a way, Robert Todd's Rising Tide represents a continuation on the themes of obsolescence and disposability that runs through Our Former Glory and In Loving Memory, a reverent, quietly observed collage on the changing face of manual labor that, like Johan van der Keuken's Springtime: Three Portraits, captures a way of life that is slowly becoming extinct in the face of technology, globalism, and mass production. Filmed around the increasingly gentrified city of Rye in suburban Westchester, New York (home of historic Rye Playland amusement park), the three-part, mixed composition structure of the film becomes, itself, a reflection of the area's transformation. The first part is a portrait of aging master watchmaker, Konrad Brzezinski and his wife Ursula who, 55 years earlier, opened the Rye Clock and Jewel repair shop. Graduating from black and white to color, silence to sound, that visually suggests the evolution of film as a metaphor for the technological revolution that now renders these artisanal, cottage industries obsolete, the fragmented montage of assorted gear works, mechanisms, fasteners, stamped metals, and watch faces are presented against the steady rhythm of ticking and chiming clocks, paralleling the motion of the time pieces with the rotation of Ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds along the boardwalk - a constant reminder of progression and displacement as a marking of time.

The second part captures the ruminations of second-generation shoemaker, Tony Ioveno who has watched his fortunes rise and fall along a series of rented storefronts within the community as inexpensive, mass-produced shoes and sneakers become the staple of everyday wear. Juxtaposing shots of Ioveno at work replacing the heels and soles of shoes as he explains the circumstances that have compelled to accept a profit-sharing arrangement as a sub-store to a dry cleaning service after his original shop was burned down in a suspicious fire, Todd illustrates the ramifications of short-sighted consumerism, where a disposable economy driven by novelty and affordability has supplanted the intangible ideals of workmanship and durability.

In the third part, service station owner and Corvette restorer, Joe Lamberti places his struggle to remain financially afloat within the context of the town's rapidly transforming economic landscape, as generations-owned buildings and family businesses continue to fold, replaced by corporate chain stores capable of bankrolling increasingly prohibitive rental and operating costs. Commenting on the changing face of automotive repair that has created a highly competitive market for computer savvy mechanics capable of troubleshooting the complex electronics systems of modern day automobiles, Lamberti's observation echoes the sentiment of Brzezinski and Ioveno, a sense that craftsmanship has become outmoded and irrelevant in the conduct of day to day business in their struggle for survival, where profitability lies in impersonal, high volume transactions, indistinguishability, and planned obsolescence.

Posted by acquarello on May 24, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Robert Todd

November 12, 2006

In Loving Memory, 2005

inlovingmemory.gifMy introduction to Robert Todd's cinema was through the experimental short, Our Former Glory, a film that juxtaposes clinical, often destabilized shots of urban architecture with footage from a makeshift missing persons posting center turned public memorial on a promenade overlooking a still smoldering World Trade Center site to create a powerful and provocative rumination on human commodification, transience, and symbolification in the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks. It is within this context that Todd's socially relevant, yet deeply personal essay film, In Loving Memory, proves especially suited as a logical progression in his continuing exposition on human fragility and consumability. Composed of a series of re-enacted character anecdotes and recorded telephone interviews with death row inmates set against depersonalized, institutional architectures and contrasting, idyllic images of verdant fields and voluptuous, highly textural natural landscapes, often paradoxically near prison grounds (an exquisite visual aesthetic that favorably recalls the austere, yet sublime rustic terrestriality of Jon Jost's cinema), the film confronts the myth of the prison correctional system as a punitive, but reformative agent for inmate rehabilitation and social reintegration. Indeed, what emerges from the film's illuminating conversations (or more appropriately, monologues, since Todd allows the prisoners to tell their stories in their own voice, seemingly without intrusive interjection) is not only a thoughtful, poignant, and wistful account of quotidian life that form the transcendent (and transitory) memory of indefinable happiness - youthful wonder, the birth of a child, the intoxication (and ache) of a romantic love realized too late, the humbling (and spiritually uplifting) act of selflessness - but also a profound awareness of moral culpability and inevitable mortality. Eschewing on camera interviews, photographs, or even establishing biographical information about the prisoners, the film renders a provocative and incisive re-assessment of the true meaning of blind justice, where expedient, yet prejudicial social stigmas of underprivilege, systematic abuse, limited education, and tragic lapses in judgment undercut - if not consciously obfuscate - any attempt at illustrating the humanization of the prisoners in the aftermath of their captivity, where a renewed sense of purpose, self-respect, integrity, and determination - in essence, the uncomfortable reality of confronting a condemned prisoner's actual enlightenment and transformation - is revealed through self-introspective (and implicitly, atoning) acts of spirituality, ministry, education, charity, and victim advocacy. Assembled during the filmmaker's recuperation from illness, In Loving Memory serves, not only as a social interrogation on the morality of capital punishment, but also as a broader commentary on human frailty, rehabilitation, and disposability.

Posted by acquarello on Nov 12, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, Robert Todd