The description from the Anthology Film Archives website of the aforementioned Emma’s Dilemma:
1997-2005, DV, ca. 90 min.
Introduced by Ken Jacobs.
Henry Hills’ EMMA’S DILEMMA reinvents the portrait for the age of digital reproduction. In a series of probes into the images and essences of such downtown luminaries as Richard Foreman, Ken Jacobs, Tony Oursler, Carolee Schneemann, and Fiona Templeton, Hills’ cinematic inventions literally turn the screen upside down and inside out. In this epic journey into the picaresque, we follow Emma, our intrepid protagonist, from her pre-teen innocence to her late teen-attitude, as she learns about the downtown art scene firsthand. In the process, Hills reimagines the art of video in a style that achieves the density, complexity, and visual richness of his best films. The premiere full-evening screening of this experimental extravaganza (which includes NERVOUS KEN as well as KING RICHARD, a portrait of Richard Foreman which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival).
This completely absorbing film is presided over by a petal-faced precocious ingénue (Emma Bernstein) who just happens to be the daughter of one of the most influential poets (on me anyway) of our time. Henry was absolutely right to choose as a subject her mind in her extraordinary face. His camera closed in on every feature, revealing her every expression as articulate and, well, adorable. The interviewees never once seemed to be talking down to her, and it was always fascinating to watch how she registered people’s responses to her perspicacious queries.
That the video – correctly speaking it’s a video, not a film – alternated between reportage and highly manipulated techniques was not only not jarring, but seemed absolutely balanced – a solution, if you will, of “Henry’s dilemma. “ One person said over dinner afterwards – was it Bradley Eros?—that the hypnotic “experimental” sections actually gave one time to process the thought-provoking information in the straighter sections. And even though I am not a devotee of experimental film, I thought the techniques Henry used were wild and beautiful. Afterwards, everyone talked particularly about the amazing Esheresque effect he had used on the movement of Ken Jacob’s hands. I also loved especially what he did with Julie Patton’s voice. In this way, many of the interviews (some of which were with a few of the most brilliant people I have ever encountered – Carolee Schneemann! Richard Foreman!) were imitative homages.
I felt very moved to be present at the opening, with so many of the people interviewed present, and where there was a very vibrant feeling of a tangle of pulsing creativities. Charles B.’s mother (Andy Warhol’s “Countess”) in her hat ringed by Mexican dolls. Noted choreographer Sally Silvers behind me. Carolee in front of me. Nick and Toni in the front row. Laura and Rodrigo up in the back. I had one of those rare (these days) feelings of gratitude (I’ve grown so tired and cynical) to be here, among these people.
I told Henry afterwards that it was the best non-Indian movie I’d seen in a loooooooooong time. Do not, I repeat, do not miss this film, should it come our way again any time soon, if only to see the final shots of Felix Bernstein hamming it up in a tutu. Wow.