Prolific Canadian experimental filmmaker Mike Hoolboom’s “Public Lighting” surpasses even the beauty of his most recent work, “Imitations of Life.” Visually dense and hypnotic while brimming with the kind of penetrating ideas one associates with Godard, “Public Lighting” ponders the ways in which seeing and hearing affect human consciousness. While avant-garde fans will file it as essential viewing, the loveliness of this concise rumination should draw a wider aud in its current fest tour and through vid distribution.
Divided into seven chapters, pic opens on a light spectrum as a symbol for pic’s range of views, launched by an introductory chapter with Hoolboom’s alter-ego, a female author (voiced by Esma Mouhktar) explaining that in the following six chapters, she will tell of six kinds of sadness fitting six personality types all under the umbrella title of “Public Lighting.”
“In the City” recalls early Peter Greenaway in its ironic storytelling wherein a male voice (Ken Thompson) describes his breakups with each of his boyfriends, paired to a gorgeous montage of restaurants and city scenes.
The Greenaway touch spills over slightly to “Glass,” in which Hoolboom honors composer Philip Glass with a fantastically limpid tone poem of images and selected fragments from some of Glass’ better-known pieces, capped with a suitably spare scene of Glass alone at his piano.
Hoolboom has long taken found footage and made it his own, and he amusingly does this with “Hey Madonna,” which includes bits from “Truth or Dare” (including Warren Beatty grilling the diva on why she allows herself to be filmed at all times) and videos like “Vogue.” What turns the images upside down is how they’re presented in the context of an apparently fictitious letter written by a gay man dying from AIDS, who claims to have slept with Madonna, and ponders sadly how the superstar is starting to show her age.
Next two chapters (“Tradition,” “Hiro”) are about image-makers with roots in Asia–one, a North American lenser of Chinese parentage who’s cajoled to return to the home country and ponders if her life isn’t unfolding in some sort of strange loop; the other is a brilliantly edited, highly impressionistic segment on Japanese photographer Hiro Kanagawa as he looks for nighttime subjects and stumbles across a corpse.
Finale, “Amy,” is narrated by a model (Liisa Repo-Martell) who’s painfully uncomfortable with her own body and “old woman’s” face.
Astonishing closing image is a tightly composed telephoto shot on the start of a marathon race among young schoolgirls, dashing toward and then across the screen in ultra-slo-mo, and accompanied by a girls’ chorus hauntingly singing Brian Wilson’s “God Only Knows.”
Widely eclectic lensing and looks in various media and in color and black-and-white flow nicely from one section to the next, aided by gifted editor Mark Karbusicky.