I was recently asked to provide some additional notes for a presentation of my video "The Metamorphosis: Daphne in 4 Parts". I held off on responding until the last minute, as usual, but when I finally sat down and got my head into it, I realized there was actually a story there. The preproduction process was a very interesting experience for me, but I don't assume it would be to anyone else. Anyway, here's the full transcription of my account, which I wrote and shot off in a single go. I'm glad to have a history of it down in one place, anyway.
Dec 9, 2016
To: Barbara P
Dear Barbara, hi and thanks. I'm not sure what to say beyond the usual exhibition statement:
"The Metamorphosis (Daphne…) is a staged retelling of Ovid’s poetic myth of desire, punishment, and arboreal transformation. Here, the nature spirit Daphne is presented as a subject in a stylized interview, framed in the manner of psychological case studies, or reality-TV talking head confessionals: unstable but lucid, defiant, continuously morphing and dissolving into her own delusions and narratives. As a response to sexual violence, the transmutation of Daphne’s self into an aspect of the natural landscape (an efflorescing tree) serve as a kind of defense mechanism, a “screen memory” — but also as an act of radical self-affirmation, a willing destabilization of physical form in favor of generating a more fluid notion of identity.
As with all fables, the language of myth invites the audience to commune with historical forms and themes that resonate with contemporary concerns.”
Perhaps some pre-production notes would be more illuminating (to me as well):
When I first embarked upon this production, I was interested in the media form of the ‘talking head’. A conveyor of truth, news, emotions, stories, or as simple portraiture.
Around this motif, I was making work with actors (or just interesting people I knew) who I would direct to perform monologues in a semi-improvisatory way. Some of the material they recited was purely biographical; some was information that I supplied or would guide them to say on the spot; some of it was poetic or literary material from other sources. My goal was to construct a ‘media personality’ that dissolved the boundaries between fact & fiction, documentary & acting, or at least raised the question in the viewers’ minds about how they look at and learn from media-staged characters. This process would begin with me asking the actors one question: “do you have any memories that you know are false, but seem more real to you than what actually occurred?”
‘Daphne/The Metamorphosis’ grew out of these experiments, combined with my interest in ‘adapting’ motifs from classic mythology and science fiction. I constructed a framework around “what if Daphne were a person alive today, and how would a mythological, morality-lesson story be interpreted through a contemporary lens — and from her point of view?”
I chose the NYC-based transgender performance artist Nicholas Gorham to play the part. I wasn’t trying to make a particular point about gender, drag, or trans-identity at this stage; Nicholas was simply someone who I knew and felt was the perfect person to play the role.
I interviewed another friend privately, a woman who I had known to be a survivor of sexual abuse. I wanted her perspective on how a rape survivor might communicate such a trauma, and rationalize it within herself, so that I could speak to this subject matter in an authentic voice. Proceeding from this, I devised a loose torso of a script that would contain certain themes and talking points, which reconstructed the original narrative of Daphne and Apollo, and put the characters into a contemporary context.
I presented these notes and ‘concept images’ taken from art history (Bernini’s ‘Apollo and Daphne’ being the most famous) to Nicholas. He developed the costume and mannerisms based on this, with the idea that she would be lucid but delusional, and residing in a mental institution. We shot the ‘interview’ in one sitting, with me off camera in the role of the ‘psychiatrist’ and director. My voice doesn’t appear in the film, and aside from a few specific directions and key lines that I had scripted, the performance was entirely and brilliantly improvised by Nicholas. He struck the right balance between ‘pathos’, ‘camp’ and sincere emotion that I was looking for.
At this point I still didn’t have an idea about the visual direction of the piece. I imagined incorporating some special effects, some trippy visuals like in the other videos I made, but basically the character would be presented as she was shot. It took me a full year and a half between shooting and final editing of the interview; several sequences were ultimately cut about Daphne’s ‘father’ (a river god who was actually responsible for casting the spell of transformation on her, in a spectacular act of "blame the victim for being too beautiful to resist"). At some point during editing, I began experimenting with the 3D computer-generated look that rendered Daphne in a way that reflected her inner psychological state in a more interesting way than the usual ‘weird’ effects would do. So this process ended up being a lot more time-consuming and deviated significantly from my original vision, but for the better, I think. It took that much time for this piece to let me know what it wanted to ‘be’, if that makes sense.
The sound design was also all composed by me, inspired by some campy electronic recordings of ‘music for plants’ that I had come across while researching this whole human/plant hybrid concept. Finally, I designed a series of 'chapter headings' -- the "4 Parts" -- as interludes, using extra bits of footage I had, mostly as a way to give the viewing audience a break but also to accentuate some of the 'punchlines' delivered by Daphne and give this long video a bit more of a narrative structure.
Dec 10, 2016
To: Sean Capone
It is in an hour and a half and this text is of GREAT HELP AND INTEREST
Thank you so much !