Excerpts from Behold Goliath

2004 | 00:10:00 | United States | English | Color | Stereo

Collection: Single Titles

Tags: Health, Literature, Visual Art

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In Excerpts from Behold Goliath, Tom Kalin presents four experimental short films inspired by American writer Alfred Chester (1928-71), who in 1964 published a collection of short stories of the same name. Each of Kalin's films, Some Desperate Crime on My Head (2003), The Robots of Sodom (2002), Every Evening Freedom (2002), and Salad Days (2004), devotedly exploits Chester's words with computer voice-synthesizers, and juxtaposes them with music, film and hand-drawn images. Chester, a seminal figure in the early use of homosexual themes in literature, was both revered and disregarded during his short life. In childhood he was stricken with scarlet fever, a disease that left him completely hairless. Arguably, this affliction and his subsequent physical transformation cast Chester as an often tormented pariah and directly influenced his writings.

In these films, Kalin delves into the effects of oppression and offers a tolerant response, siding neither with the protagonist or antagonist. In the Bible, the giant Goliath is portrayed as the despised monster towering over the innocent David--a triumph of faith against impossible odds. In Kalin's work, the viewer begins to contemplate an unconventional victory of the misfit over heroic beauty. By upending a traditional paradigm, Kalin unfolds a multifaceted portrait of the human condition.

Kalin uses Chester's "The Foot" as the inspiration for Some Desperate Crime on My Head. This autobiographic vignette details the pain and isolation triggered by Chester's disease, and creates an anguished portrayal of an ostracized man with a glabrous head. In his sketches--outlined Muybridge figures with strapping bodies, traced, photographed, and then refilmed--Kalin illuminates the poetry of Chester and questions the social potency of appearances. Chester's words flicker across images of bare tree branches in diluted red environments and are delivered in concert--the cacophony of sounds becomes cheerless cries, overwhelming the isolated figures that Kalin depicts.

The Robots of Sodom alludes to Manhattan as a modern-day Sodom. According to the Bible, Sodom (along with Gomorrah), was the city God destroyed by fire because of the depraved ways of its inhabitants. Homophobics often use this passage to claim that God does not approve of homosexuality. In Kalin's Sodom, husky figures with ghoulish masks lurk both in the urban environment and the forest. Even through the robots are "omnipotent and omniscient… they cannot be anything but robots, they cannot love, they cannot know they are robots, and they cannot know they cannot love," a result of an imposed banishment.

Every Evening Freedom highlights Chester's social alienation, contrasting the "9 to 5" normal business day with the "5 to 9" distractions. Old and new montaged images and Chester's words flow across the screen in a stream of consciousness. The nervous, quivering hand-held camera work adds an underlying uneasiness to the confused scenes while amplifying the arresting images.

Salad Days ends the excerpts on a positive note, and Kalin uses his personal documentary footage and snippets from his travel films. This softer excerpt, to quote Kalin, "Cleans the palette like a good sorbet."

--Lela Hersh, Chicago Arts Consultant, curator of "Tom Kalin: Behold Goliath” at I-Space Gallery, Chicago, April 2004

Exhibitions + Festivals

Athens Int'l Film/Video Festival (OH), 2004

Dallas Video Festival, 2004