The Beast Pageant screened at the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) tonight. It took me a while to extricate my thoughts from the various sets I helped build and from the scenes I acted in, but I think I finally have a grip on what great all-around acoustic soloist Jon Moses, and Albert Birney were getting at.
On its surface, The Beast Pageant follows Abe from his lifeless industrialized existence on a journey of reconnection with the natural world. It's all told in fantastical dream language, so time, space, and reality really have no grounding. It just is its own special place.
But dig deeper, and there's a layer about the beauty of human beings. Moses even used the phrase "it's an anti-aibrushing movie" in the question-and-answer. And by that, he means that the movie defies the media-generated images of the human form. All of us who acted as part of the natural world were nude (unless fully covered in costume). And the point is we're just regular people. We didn't spend 6 months prior to the film with a personal trainer to ensure our bodies were picture-perfect; rather we were all just people from around town who live normal lives.
This was the most consistently shocking element. You'll note that neither the D&C article nor the one in City Newspaper made mention of the near-constant nudity on screen. And it's because they can't unless they also subtly condemn it. So the authors of those pieces, finding a work they genuinely liked, opted instead to simply omit that fact.
To me this is a terrible precedent. It's not as if anyone in the U.S. does not see themselves naked at least once a day. Yet through the media's constant condemnation of the human body, we are taught to loathe the sight of it. And through that we loathe ourselves. And, oddly enough, we strive to buy products to give us satisfaction — so the media will approve of our appearance.
And so that theme runs through The Beast Pageant as well. The giant machine in Abe's apartment is an entertainment system (in addition to personal companion, and provider of all his physical needs.) The machine resists Abe's attempt to escape — much as the media machine resists the existence of The Beast Pageant.
But somehow, I think The Beast Pageant is going to win, one way or another.