Resident Video is a monthly series that provides exclusive access to films from emerging artists. This month we bring you Caught in a Trap by Molly Hewitt, in tandem with the Kickstarter campaign for Holy Trinity which will be her feature debut.
Note: Caught in a Trap is no longer here, but all of Molly’s comments on her early work and her future projects are still here. Read through them and be sure to check out the rest of the Resident Videos.
One significant way filmmakers explore new spaces is by exploding and recombining the symbols, formats, and cultural touchstones audiences may already be familiar with. There are fancy names for this kind of approach, words like deconstruction, pastiche, bricolage. All that is jargon for films that borrow whole-cloth, say, a song or an image and deliver it in a way that’s unconventional. The effect can be unsettlingly personal, or familiar yet alienating. That is, if it’s done right.
These are the features on display this month on Resident Video in a short film by Molly Hewitt. Caught in a Trap centers around an individual, Hewitt, in a bunny costume, riffing on lines from a classic Elvis song. Everything is filmed on VHS. It unironically takes viewers to an extreme they might not have trespassed in. These feelings are the essence of transgressive cinema, and Hewitt’s work continues in one of the richest traditions at the avant garde.
Hewitt’s next project is Holy Trinity, which is in preproduction and seeking Kickstarter funding. Before reading our conversation with Molly, back Holy Trinity on Kickstarter. Then watch Caught in a Trap. Below we discuss different uses of pop culture, the effects of a “home video” style, and what items get drawn into Caught in a Trap.
FACETS: You’re very good at playing with pop-culture touchstones and messing with their position within the mainstream. You use this approach with ABC’s The Bachelorette in your The Bachelorette: a guided meditation or your mash-up reenactment of Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Pipilotti Rist’s Ever is Over All in Hold Up Is Over All (women are crazy).
In Caught in a Trap you meditate on a classic piece of pop culture, Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds.” Your character repeats lines from the song and it’s included in full as a sort of center piece to the film. What got you interested in using pop culture in this way and what specifically drew you to Elvis for Caught in a Trap?
MOLLY: I am interested in working with pop culture because it represents the current “standards” in beauty, fashion, body type, music, language etc. I found myself wanting to re-create the media that was being fed to me and shaping my perceptions of the world. By imitating, dissecting, and subverting pop culture I am attempting to understand and relate to it in a way that I did not previously, unraveling the mechanisms and meanings of cultural text to be reused in an illuminating or empowering way. I was really drawn to “Suspicious Minds” first of all because I was going through a period of time where I was tragically obsessed with Elvis. And not just his music but the whole mythology of Elvis and the US’s obsession with him. His name and image permeates everything from gift shop mugs to folk art to Forever 21 T-shirts. I started feeling like one of the passionate fans you see in footage from his concerts and found myself feeling sad that I would never meet him. “Suspicious Minds” is a brilliant and relatable song about two people who are stuck in a cycle of insecurity in their relationship and eventually the song becomes an exhausted loop of the chorus and it sounds manic and menacing. My bunny rabbit character is a sad, childlike and genderless figure who is seemingly trapped in a series of domestic spaces, speaking about someone or merely repeating lyrics. I was working as a figure drawing model at the time and through that developed a strange meditative practice sitting still for hours at a time while having a room full of people staring at me. My rabbit character unintentionally adopted this practice also.
FACETS: The VHS aesthetic used in Caught in a Trap has a long history within underground and transgressive cinema. The use of consumer-grade cameras draws an obvious connection to home videos and subsequently to the democratization of image production – something that has aided an aesthetic and tonal shift in film and video art.
In Caught in a Trap the home video aesthetic is compounded by the fact that you are both author and subject of the film. The result is an unnervingly private atmosphere. Do you see this blurriness between public/private and autobiography/art central to your work?
MOLLY: My work is definitely a window into my personal life, I make work about my own experiences. Hearing the words public and private make me think about social media. I think the fact that we all have HD cameras, publication, and an audience of thousands has totally changed how we view art, especially performance artists or socialites/personalities. And the line is much more blurry for everyone all the time because of this. I think that my ability to post little video clips and images online has changed my art practice. Everyone on social media operates a highly curated autobiography. I think if you make performance or video work with your body it’s impossible for it to not reflect your private life in some way.
My own desires drive what I choose to make work about. Sometimes those desires are totally subconscious. For about seven years I have been doing performances where I get really messy- covered in food or paint with little to no clothing and I NEVER remember to bring a towel. You would think after this long I would have figured it out. I think it actually says a lot about my desires for public humiliation and to abandon fear of consequence. Plus I just really like to get messy. I also think most performers are satisfying some exhibitionist desires and need for attention. I used to be worried about how messiness was an overused performance art trope but I always did it anyway because my urge to do it was so strong. And it is because I was fulfilling some unknown psychosexual desires.
FACETS: We see a lot of stylistic similarities between Caught in a Trap and the films of Kenneth Anger. As we mentioned, your use of Elvis calls to mind Scorpio Rising. Your use of color and texture is similar to Puce Moment. What other filmmakers or artists do you draw from to create your particular pastiche?
MOLLY: I am inspired by the obvious–John Waters and George Kuchar. Gregg Araki’s Nowhere, Derek Jarman’s Jubilee, as well as Ken Russel’s The Devils which Jarman was Production Designer on. The Forbidden Zone by Oingo Boingo is a huge source of inspiration to me. Two things that heavily influenced me from watching when I was younger are The Amanda Show and The Mighty Boosh. I am a big fan of Anna Biller’s work both The Love Witch and Viva. I also watch a lot of vintage porn and music videos. For about four and a half years I worked at The Roger Brown Study collection which is a little Chicago gem that I highly recommend checking out. It is a preserved house museum containing a collection of imagist paintings, found objects, folk art and more. I think being surrounded by those objects for so long definitely affected my art making sensibilities. I am also really inspired by the women and femmes in the Chicago DIY performance and music scene. I have probably been inspired more and learned more from them than anything else.
FACETS: We’re really excited about Holy Trinity (again, anyone reading this should take a break and go donate to the Kickstarter now). The film is a change for you in terms of scope and production value. It’s your first feature, you’ve been working on it for several years already, and it’s the product of large scale collaboration. What’s one of the best parts about making this shift?
MOLLY: I have really embraced making video work with little to no budget–you figure out a lot of tricks, you are met with a lot of limitations and obstacles which you then have to work around. I love the messy, lumpy, cheap, aesthetic that comes with working this way but I decided that I wanted to tighten the screws (maybe not tighten them all the way but at least shellac and spray-paint them gold). I wanted to make something ambitious that had the same colorful, bold, cartoony values but on a much larger scale. Making the transition from doing everything myself to having a team of people has been a really amazing change, at first it was weird but you quickly realize that when you are directing it actually makes everyone’s job easier if you aren’t trying to micromanage every single thing. There are so many moving parts to making a film and if any one crew member were different it would be a totally different piece–it’s a true collaboration. I think the best part about the scene we shot for Holy Trinity was watching this microcosm of the Chicago queer, performance and drag scene come together and create something so beautiful. Everyone brought so much to the table, even the extras all did their own costuming. It is exciting to see the potential of a collaboration with so many people.
Be sure to check out the rest of the Resident Video series. While the films are no longer available, the interviews remain until our servers dissolve.