Daniel Barrow in a red button-up dress shirt, striped yellow-black tie, and plaid pants— he's just skinny enough to squeeze behind his overhead projector which is wedged between two rows of seats on the floor of the Northwest Film Center. He preps for his performance of Everytime I See Your Face I Cry by squirting some blue lens cleaner onto a paper towel. He shortly converses with his assistant who'll pass him the hundreds of painted Mylar transparencies needed for his hour-long "manual animation"— an imagined account of a disenchanted art-school graduate, working as a trash collector while creating a phone book of personal portraits and profiles.
SPOILER ALERT: If you're going to see Everytime tonight or tomorrow you probably shouldn't read on (unless you want a guide for some of the more confusing plot points).
Amy Linton's soundtrack— a chime-heavy instrumental indie-folk— runs throughout the show under Barrow's half-lisped half-cooed narration. Barrow's narrator, the artsy garbage man, tells of his childhood. Due to an eye condition, he's blindfolded for his early years. This physical ailment leads to a lack of confidence in achieving romantic love. He replaces romantic love with art, telling the audience, "I fear it's inevitable that my art will love me back," while the words "Deaf, blind, and dumb" are transposed over a hand with lips for a palm. The airy palm floats on the screen and the first of ten chapters starts. The reflections on love break into ones on crying. When Barrow says, "I think crying is a really cleansing and fantastic thing-- I'd probably loose five pounds if I could cry," it sets the tone for the show's loosely-organized series of depressing insights. The narrator reveals that due to his health condition, he was nicknamed Helen Keller by children at school, and after years of taunting became irrevocably withdrawn, resigned to hold that name while shedding no tears.
He cushions his disconnect from news, trends, and the world at large with a faith in intuition. "I'm not pretending to be psychic, but when you've lived as I have, like Helen Keller did, with a broken arc of senses and experience, you become acutely sensitive without having to know every last gory detail." But he's intimate with many gory truths: that in later years as an art student, compliments during group criticism were really just back-scratching, that no artist can plan for fame, and that mediocrity is a reality which most people must reconcile. Reconciling mediocrity by creating a phone book of portraits, Helen Keller sifts through people's trash and waits outside their windows to draw them in their most personal and vulnerable states: while sleeping, decompressing from a long day at work, making love.
After knotty accounts of the narrator's childhood and art-school years, a character named the Bag Lady is introduced, spinning back chronologically to the narrator's grade school days. "I remember him most a deformed, 150 pound eight year old with one foot in fairy land and the other on a banana peal." The Bag Lady, not so shockingly, wears paper bags for clothes. Helen Keller remembers how the Bag Lady was beat up and tormented as a kid, leading him to become "a teenaged Satanist, though only the most commercialized, Marilyn Manson variety, which I now realize is much scarier than the real thing." Then comes a gloryhole scene which complicates the narrator's relationship with Bag Lady. Helen Keller tells us that he longs for physical contact, so he goes down on the Bag Lady through a hole in a bathroom stall, not knowing the identity of his sexual partner.
The big twist comes when we find out that the Bag Lady has been following Helen Keller, murdering all the people he includes in his phone book. This twist is later trumped by a second, when the narrator's eyes are gouged out, acid poured in the holes, and heart ripped from his chest (by Bag Lady), revealing that the whole story has been told by the narrator's ghost. This fully rounds off the martyr aspect— he dies creating his phone book— though confuses the Bag Lady's motivations. Why would the Bag Lady murder the narrator if his life's work is based on following him around and killing the people recorded in the phone book? Why would he murder his lover? Why would he remove the one point that guides all his actions? These questions aren't answered. A wispy tree rises from a mass grave in Bag Lady's back yard, while Barrow lists off more generalizations about life, death, and the impossibility of communicating emotion.
While the story's narration sifts through a series of general truths— at times feeling directionless— the visual display remains grounded and intriguing throughout. There is a grotesque, fairy tale thread amongst Barrow's cartoonish renderings. These images are often surreal, deeply symbolic, and fascinatingly crafted into movement. Not only does Barrow manipulate multiple transparencies to synthesize movement, but he has fabricated a knapsack of other techniques to animate his characters. One such technique is Barrow's creation of two-frame, "lenticular" animations, employing dual fields of striped black lines and moving them over one another for a flip-book effect. Barrow's innovative techniques in creating movement from still images are worth the $15 cover charge in and of itself.
Barrow is performing Everytime I See Your Face I Cry tonight at 8:30 pm and tomorrow at 6:30 pm, at the Northwest Film Center, 1219 SW Park Avenue.
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