Brandon Downing’s books of strange and ingenious poetry include LAZIO, The Shirt Weapon, and Dark Brandon. A new DVD collection, Dark Brandon // The Filmi, has just been released, and he’s currently completing a monograph of his literary collages under the title Lake Antiquity.
If a signal feature of some strains of the avant-garde is a studied distance from its subjects, a “direct presentation of the thing,” there is another strain whose practitioners regard their subjects with a complex kind of affection. Susan Sontag wrote in “Notes on Camp” that
Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of “character.” . . . Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as “a camp,” they’re enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling.
Brandon Downing is a kind of neo-Campist, and he does, I believe, love his subjects. If he presents to us a patchwork of inconceivably mawkish awfulnesses, if is really not in the spirit of contempt. He presents human pathos and ridiculousness as things of beauty, or at least as objects of sincere fascination.
The films are ludic parody, certainly, but folded into the satire are layers of murky, almost, dare I say it – Jungian –profundity (sometimes literally as deep ocean imagery). Sex, death, greed, savagery, technology, betrayal, hysteria – these are the modes through which each film passes, in the form of digitally processed early humans, huge wheels turning as karmic techno-retribution while below them couples dance in foolish mortal lust, and fake sharks roll back fake eyeballs in fake oceans. I have seen these films many times, in many drafts, yet I am always eager to see them again, which leads me to conclude that they are truly drugs. It is with an awed and tender feeling that I welcome one of my favorite filmmakers, Brandon Downing.