Gazing Oozing with Mendacity / jUlian Semilian /intro by John Olson
Music by / Laura Semilian
Julian’s images are sugar for the brain. The hard realities we confront on a daily basis are disrupted, transmuted into fish and vivid colors, heightened textures and diaphanous membranes choreographed by the syntax of dream. There’s always fish. Fish undulating, oscillating, languidly moving through a scene of discordant imagery like piscine needles sewing a space-time continuum to a subway station. The ‘mendacity’ of the title is disassembled into “mend a city.” A play on words that give a further little push to the idea of altering what appears to be unalterable. Fiction is, of course, a form of mendacity, but it’s a benign mendacity, a mendacity intended to simultaneously reveal, heal, and unseal what is hidden. And all cities need mending; they’re grim realities, places of loneliness and survival. Nothing more bleak than a subway station, that subterranean zone in cities like Manhattan full of impatience, worry, aggression, noise, and alienation. Big rivets on steel beams. Cheerless places, insults to the senses, the eyes in particular, these balls of jelly and nerve messaging the brain with the riddles of our milieu. We see Julian’s eyes crazed with black lines gazing into the viewer as the viewer gazes into the ooze of this strange filmscape. The effect is one of quiet apprehension, the images keep surprising, surging, imbuing the desolate urbanity with a weirdly aquatic and oceanic consciousness. We see pedestrians, a casually dressed, touristy looking woman smiling broadly, a heavyset man talking on a cell phone he has clasped firmly to his ear, a big arm with a gold watch, a black screen on a tiled subway wall in which a brassiere comes floating out and a man’s voice reverently uttering the words “I love you” followed by the sound of a whip and a woman’s sinister laughter. Julian has taken the imagery of the city and mended it with film, the inherent fluidity of film, and juiced it with an undercurrent of sadomasochistic drama, the eternally inexplicable behavior of human sexuality. Nothing is ever one thing. There is always a plurality, and a metamorphic drive to that plurality. Things flow in and out of frame. The overall effect is one of trance. One gets caught up in the filmic undulations, interspersed with a man’s hand on a row of piano keys, plunking a note or two as if meditating on an inchoate idea or musical composition, an embryonic moment interrupted by eggs breaking on the subway floor, then – time turning backwards – reassembling and floating back into black screen on the tiled subway wall. One feels permeated by this magical syntax, the ringing of celestial chimes, otherworldly hums and choruses of dreamy yearning (the music for this film was provided by Julian’s wife, Laura Semilian), breaking glass, electrical static, and that ever present feeling of depersonalization cities are so good at creating as everyone pursues their own unscripted narrative, the way we do every day, surrounded by a world that is always in flux, always a bit tentative, always a little haunted, and barely understood.
Julian Semilian is an experimental filmmaker, film editor, teacher, poet, translator, and novelist. He was born in Romania and has been teaching film editing and experimental cinema at the University North Carolina School of the Arts, School of Filmmaking, for over two decades, following a career as a film editor in Hollywood, where he worked on more than 50 movies and TV shows.