The-Grand-Bizarre-1600x900-c-defaultThough human figures only ever appear in the periphery of the film, Jodie Mack’s The Grand Bizarre teems with life. Filmed over five years, Mack’s experimental feature follows thousands of intricately woven tapestries, rugs, quilts, shawls across continents as they interchange, intersect, and overlap against myriad backdrops. Rendered animate using stop motion techniques, the textiles dance and morph in frame, bombarding viewers with salvo after salvo of vibrant color. Piles of fabric stack and unstack to the sound of a person’s breaths in a bazaar. Rugs slink up and down steps outside a building complex. Across locations as geographically disparate as Mexico and India, Mack places her colorful acquisitions in marketplaces, dockyards, trains, boats, beachfronts, roadsides and more, tying all of these settings together with a thread of common creative labor.

Mack deftly uses the images of tapestries – beautiful patterns brought into being by human hands – to chronicle the exchange of creative energy and culture across a globalized world. What is striking about the patterns and places Mack portrays is not how different they are, but rather, how familiar they seem. A bazaar Mack presents in Morocco could exist within walking distance of a shoreline filmed in Turkey. And the textiles, each unique and colorful individually, combine to form a cohesive body of art that seems to transcend borders.

Indeed, Mack repeatedly uses these fabrics to capture motion across time and place. Images of clocks and spinning globes recur, perhaps obtusely, but, more remarkably, the tapestries seem to echo and lend motion to Mack’s largely static footage. In every scene, the camera remains fixed, so the pulsing textiles create the movement within the frame. Birds migrating overhead and colorful containers unloaded in a dockyard echo the woven patterns’ motion. In some shots, with the camera set stationary in a moving train or boat, the background moves independently of the still foreground, appearing as if the flashing fabrics, stacked on a cabin table or chair, are animating the background of the image.

And so, while a film like Mack’s could easily descend into repetition and drudgery, The Grand Bizarre through its 60 minute runtime remains infectiously energetic. Much of this energy stems from Mack’s editing and music choices. Alongside her images, Mack wrote an eclectic soundtrack consisting of lo-fi pop music remixed with quotidian sounds that punctuate each pulse and bounce of Mack’s textiles. The music is at once universally familiar but nondescript, like a sly joke, evoking a modern day equivalent of elevator muzak. These tracks, one of which is a ridiculous riff on the skype ringtone, add an eccentricity and playfulness to Mack’s images, as if asking viewers to descend from the heights of intellectual detachment often associated with the avant-garde and celebrate the vibrance on screen.  

The textiles are not the only materials shown on screen, however. Interspersed throughout the film are snatches of sheet music, lexical symbols, maps, and tattoos,  as well as images of looms and texts describing different cultural weaves in sterile black and white. Mack is interested in conveying a palpable sense of process and labor – from the creation of cultural artifacts to their spread across the globe to their codification in academic texts to the cross-pollination of ideas between artifacts of different cultures – as a constantly evolving and self-reflexive phenomena.

Perhaps, Mack views Grand Bizarre as another such artifact to be exchanged and disseminated, drawing parallels between her film and the weaves she presents. In her montages, woven fabrics completely overtake the frame, drawing an implicit comparison between those cultural artifacts and the images viewers see. The cinematic image that Mack presents  is the product of a single individual’s hands on a loom, thousands of miles from the theater, transported through the film to viewers’ screens. Even the film itself is structured like a textile as Mack weaves together vignettes bookended at the feature’s beginning and end by ‘loose strands’ of film. A largely analog film with significant handmade and stop-motion portions, every shot draws attention to Mack’s own process in conceiving, scoring, arranging and shooting each image. The final sequence of The Grand Bizarre is the film’s longest continuous section of montage and is set against the sound of rustling movement as an unseen individual, likely Mack herself, operates an editing apparatus. It’s a rhythmic whirring sound, soothing almost, and ends with a sneeze, reminding viewers that every flash of an image they experience has been laboriously fabricated. Every image they are seeing is the result of several uniquely human creative acts.

Even if Mack’s stylistic gambles may not land for some viewers, and even if the film may grow tiresome to others as it hits the 60 minute mark,  most at least will be able to appreciate the effort and intricacy of Mack’s work as a refreshingly sincere creative act.