I was watching and then reviewing all of these a while ago but had to stop here because it broke me. It’s the first one of these shorts to actually be good, and I didn’t quite know how to deal with that.
It’s not that the ideas that this is playing with are anything groundbreaking like baby’s first introduction to performance art is basically Marina Abramović so anyone who’s done any study will understand the artistic history of self destruction.
I guess I was resistant to the way that it made itself so easy to read: an opening five minutes that asked a lot of questions, then a response through which the answers are clinically conveyed to us. The structure even makes itself obvious through the text, by presenting two voiceovers in contradiction. The critic and the artist.
Emma Thornett plays the critic, who describes to us the prodigious career of Zima, whose work became increasingly conceptual over the course of his career. It speaks of the audience’s obsession with seeing reality lovingly depicted before them, as this series itself tries and fails so often to do, and rejects it in order to explore something more experimental.
It also serves to implicate an audience who are both suspect of and allured by the abstract. This tantalising notion that the thrust of the work itself must be damaging to the artist, while really, the artist is themselves in control, using the work to explore themselves. Look at the the unreliable story we are so often told about Louis Wain’s career.
Her vocal performance reminded me of Rima Te Wiata’s on season 2 of Within the Wires which is probably more due to the similarity in the material both are covering. Kevin Michael Richardson voices Zima with a collected air, resistant to the pitfall of tragedy that could too easily consume the material.
When we see him he’s barely human, although turns out never to have been. Robert Valley’s visual style runs this theme of brittle humanity through the film, his characters stretched and squashed — resembling a fractured silhouette of humanity. And the concept of Zima Blue — evocative the commerical colorism of Anish Kapoor’s vantablack — actually being a working class evocation of the power and purpose of labour is an intriguing one. And certainly more interesting than any of Kapoor’s most recent ventures.
At the same time I’m kinda pressed to admit that it’s not as smart as the material it’s playing with. It’s one of the shortest, and delivered very didactically and it’s almost a parable in its own way, but without a clear meaning.
That might be it, that even though the story is very self explanatory, it invites the audience in to consider the themes at its core. And I dunno, this is like the first (maybe second) time this series has actually committed to something like that.
Love, Death & Robots is currently available to stream via Netflix.