Depending on how you look at them, Andy Warhol’s famous early short films Kiss (1963) and Blow Job (1964) are either cunning scams on a credulous Modern art audience or truly innovative blendings of film and portraiture. Both feature continuous static shots — Kiss shows a male-female couple smooching before abruptly cutting to two guys doing the same, and Blow Job, declared “the longest reaction shot in cinema history” by one scholar, features a young man filmed from the neck up while receiving the title service from an unseen paramour.
Both shorts have derived their power from the subtle onscreen facial movements of their subjects as well the active, behind-the-scenes participation of volunteers and scenesters — in Warhol’s case, the hipsters and hangers-on who populated his New York studio The Factory.
Fort Worth artists and longtime friends Kate McDougall, 29, and Brad Simmons, 29, had been mulling a film and photography project that put together all the elements of those early Warhol black-and-white shorts: community collaboration, improvisation, and explorations of sexual identity and of the interconnectedness between the moving and the still image. The idea gelled recently: They would create three short films in conjunction with a photography show that would look at the malleable concepts of masculinity and femininity, the social expectations that are raised, and the personal stories that are hidden. The recent TABC-FWPD raid on the South Side’s Rainbow Lounge lit a new fire of urgency under the duo’s plans.
“I went to a couple of the rallies and to the city council meeting,” said McDougall, a Fort Worth native who, along with Simmons, is gay. “It was impressive the way the community has organized after the raid. [Simmons and I] want to take advantage of that passion and create a project that’s fun and serious and tells the stories of our lives.”
The first of the trio of untitled, Warhol-inspired “living portraits” of sexual ambivalence is to be filmed this Sunday at The Chat Room Pub (1263 W. Magnolia Ave., the South Side, 817-597-8029) with Simmons as director and McDougall starring as a reluctant, universal object of desire. The two TCU grads have walked separate paths in recent years — McDougall, an installation artist who’s worked often with the Metrognome Collective and the Fort Worth Arts Consortium, moved to Los Angeles for three years to check out the art scene there. Unimpressed and underemployed, she returned to her hometown to pursue her art career. Simmons, a filmmaker and musician, enrolled in the Art Institute of Dallas to study graphic design. For their first official collaboration, they’ve brought in cinematographer William Franklin and hope to draw as many volunteer participants, gay and non-gay, as the Chat’s fire code will permit.
“The idea [of the first film] is that Kate is a woman who’s questioning her sexuality,” said Simmons, “and there’s a succession of people — men and women — coming up to her in this bar with different motives. We’ll condense it into a constant stream of rewarding and degrading experiences that helps shape how she sees herself.”
On Sunday, Simmons and McDougall also will be informally interviewing people to cast for the next two short films in their trilogy as well as to be models for the accompanying photography exhibit. Simmons has already snapped eight portraits of gay male models in unlikely guises, including as plaid-shirted lumberjacks (Simmons found a plethora of subjects in the local “bear” community) and as Hef-styled, evening-jacketed playboys. McDougall’s part of the photo show involves less ironic, more personal subject matter, especially the personal accounts and anecdotes of women navigating their relationships with other women. The film and photo installation is tentatively slated to appear early next year as a Metrognome Collective-sponsored show at the collective’s Firehouse Gallery on the East Side.
Of this Sunday’s event, Simmons said, “Although the subject matter is ultimately gay, we want open-minded straight people to come out and join us. We don’t want anyone to feel excluded.”