Misfit Bliss: Confessions of a Sociopath...

Confessions of a Sociopath and other movies that don’t fit

Each time we see a man walk on the wire, a part of us is up there with him… the experience of the high wire is direct, unmediated, simple, and it requires no explanation whatsoever.  The art is the thing itself, a life in its most naked delineation.  And if there is beauty in this, it is because of the beauty we feel inside ourselves.
- Paul Auster, On The High Wire

But, you see, in exchange for me showing you these things, you have to bear a certain burden.
- Joe Gibbons, Confessions of a Sociopath

It’s cool not to fit in (that is, once you’ve passed Grade 11). If the movies have taught us anything, it’s the joy to be had in proclaiming your individuality—or at least in watching someone else do so. Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda rode their Harleys across three decades to find us sitting in darkened theatres, watching men with names like Lester Burnham and Tyler Durden bust out of their workaday cubicles (though whether rebellion is defined by one’s own desires, or simply as the opposite of the norm, remains uncertain).

The spectrum of ways to rebel ranges from the beautiful to the pathetic, the role model to the bad example, the empowering to the futile. This collection of works is a cross-section of that spectrum: six performative hypotheses in which the test subjects place themselves, or are placed, outside such common constraints as architecture, decorum, the film frame, conscience, and gravity.

Sheet Sculpture is a record of what happens when two people (Kika Thorne and Adrian Blackwell) bring outside-the-box thinking to the act of making a bed. Simple in concept, sublime in execution, it serves as an instructional video for artistic creation with the most modest and domestic of means. Going, by Colleen Collins and Claire Greenshaw, occupies a similar space; two synchronized figures perform ritualistic, stylized movements in and out of an unpopulated public pool. Their actions and the clever camera placement open discreet cracks in the definitions of public performance, privacy, and recreation.  Whether clandestine, rebellious, or simply lonely, it’s a quietly moving duet.

As engaging as these performances are, one could ask whether the performers are having more fun than the audience.  Danny Scavuzzo’s Pure Intention acknowledges this question and then happily throws it to the wind. A sharp-dressed man dances the light impossible while an academic lecture on the artistic process is in constant danger of being buried by a raucous drumbeat. It’s not that the issue of artistic worth isn’t worthy; it just doesn’t make so much difference when you’re dancing in midair.

Getting Stronger Every Day is the flipside of all this misfit bliss.  A monologue that hovers between childlike naiveté and sinister deviance, it paints a picture of an affection-starved man in arrested emotional development. Lost in a world of movie reminiscences and meaningless geometry, this character would likely view Sheet Sculpture not as playful performance but as abstract horror. Whether his perpetual immaturity has also made him psychotically dangerous is unknowable, thanks to the parallel-narrative structure that Miranda July is making more her own with each passing video.

Shawn P. Morrissey tells a similar story, but with the narrative excised. His Automatic Meat Probe scissors a couple of angry antagonists from a 1970s stunt film, leaving their machismo to howl in the celluloid void as they beat the shit out of each other and into infinity. As giddy an exercise as it may be, there’s something sad about these two guys, going through the motions without realizing that their movie has left them to fend for themselves.

Joe Gibbons, on the other hand, is fully aware that he’s fending for himself, and he’s determined to do it even if it kills him. With Confessions of a Sociopath, he laces a life of self-documentation and self-destruction into a compact half-hour. Gibbons the doctor looks at Gibbons the patient, trying to divine the cause of his alcoholism, heroin dependency, and joblessness (unless you count shoplifting art books as a job).

The subject’s justifications for his behaviour ring true and hollow at the same time: he’s striving toward the creation of a great work, he doesn’t trust his conscience to be anything more than classical conditioning, he doesn’t want to be a mere cog in society’s machine.  Certainly Confessions’ antisocial tendencies can be traced back to the alienation of labour, but any Marxism here is equal parts Karl and Groucho; Gibbons wouldn’t belong to any Fight Club that would have him for a member. Confessions draws the outlines not of a society that offers its citizens pale imitations of satisfaction, but of an individual who will put himself through anything in order to avoid having to call himself a citizen.

But the video’s true pathology is the fact that, pretend though it may to the contrary, it knows it was made with an audience in mind. The dropout has become the video artist, and it’s his treatment of himself simultaneously as real and fictional that makes this video something much more than a compelling piece of auto-snuff. If our desire for rebellious characters is to be fulfilled, here is an inventory of what it costs the people we ask to play the role.

Confessions of a Sociopath is a high-wire walk, but more conflicted than the kind of which Paul Auster writes. It’s a first-person POV along a concrete precipice, and we know Joe’s doing it for our benefit—why else would he have brought a camera for his jog along the edge? And why else would you have paid money to see it? The “burden” to which he refers is our burden of responsibility in this dynamic, a symbiosis born in the fires of deepest boredom. He needs us, and we need him.

Daniel Cockburn

thanks to Tom Taylor and the Pleasure Domers, Shane Smith, Jan Peacock, Leslie Peters, and the Cinematexans.  Program layout by Dave Tebby.


Sheet Sculpture
Kika Thorne & Adrian Blackwell
9 minutes, video, 1997

Pure Intention (excerpt)
Danny Scavuzzo
6 minutes, video, 1997

Colleen Collins & Claire Greenshaw
7 minutes, video, 2001

Automatic Meat Probe
Shawn P. Morrissey
5 minutes, 16mm, 2001

Getting Stronger Every Day
Miranda July
7 minutes, video, 2001

Confessions of a Sociopath
Joe Gibbons
35 minutes, video, 2001