The Hummingbird Wars

16mm, color, sound, 10 min
scans not available
A theatrical fiction, collapsing time and place: turn-of-the-last-century performers apply stage makeup as if for war, to engage in battle for the soul of the world. The injuries are more emotional than ...
Rental format: Digital file
Available for sale: Digital file

About

A theatrical fiction, collapsing time and place: turn-of-the-last-century performers apply stage makeup as if for war, to engage in battle for the soul of the world. The injuries are more emotional than physical, but cut deeply just the same. A visual/aural collage film, drawing on sources as seemingly disparate as Ibsen’s A Doll House, Japanese Gagaku music, makeup illustrations for 19th Century actors, the biography of a Shakespearean performer, blooming and decaying flowers, and a World War 1 First Aid Book, The Hummingbird Wars suggests theater in a time of war, which is the theater of any time.

And more informally: this film started with a book that I found in a flea market in Zurich a few years ago. The book is an amazing series of about 8 plates, richly printed, featuring the heads of performers (these were painted/printed images, not photos), and basically instructing the theater professional in how to apply the makeup to create iconic stage characters. ONe half of the face shows the finished makeup, and the other side shows the strokes of color as they are first applied, before blending them into the skin. 

The painting on their faces looked like war paint, like blood, like the painted "masks" of the Kabuki performer. So I started gathering together other materials and sounds to create a film with these images as a starting point. As the film developed, these images lost their centrality in the film, but they cycle throughout, and for me they still are the central point–-representing something about how theater, of any time, and its artificiality; and how the performer takes on iconic personas, essentializing the emotions and stories of any time (the eternal stories of love, loss, freedom, war, power) by en-acting them.

Because of the time period of the images that I found (early 20th Century), there was a poignancy about what these performers, and the world, was about to change dramatically, experience the unspeakable terror of WW1, and the craziness of the 20th Century; as well as the ever present colonial wars…so the shadow of war is in the film for me with the first aid images, and the figures running and hiding in the forests–-also narratives of war or conflict are of course at the center of Shakespeare, Kabuki, and most of theater.

The Hummingbird is not a violent bird. There was something about this bird, who moves swiftly and travels great distances to find the perfect food, which seems to fit with the bits of spoken dialogue from a recording of Ibsen's play A Doll's House, and also with the idea of a traveling group of actors.

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