It’s not unusual for visual artists to choose film/video as a medium — Ragnar Kjartansson’s A Lot of Sorrow recently showed here and several videos were part of the Cincinnati Art Museum’s Eyes on the Street exhibit.
But usually these pieces are short and/or conceptual artworks in their nature, not movies in the way we usually define them, as having a scripted narrative with actors that unfolds with a sense of continuity.
That’s one thing that makes Detroit-based painter Scott Reeder’s new Moon Dust — which screens at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Cincinnati Art Museum’s Mary R. Schiff Library & Archives — so different. (It is free; no reservations required.)
It is all of the above, on a very low budget and with a certain unconventional sensibility. A sci-fi feature film with a one-and-a-half-hour running time, Moon Dust is about the denizens of a run-down tourist resort on the moon (called Moon World) who struggle to maintain enthusiasm at a time when the hip, wealthier travelers have all gone to Mars.
With its deadpan tone, frequently improvised dialogue from non-professional actors (including Reeder, himself) and eccentric production design featuring color-saturated, patterned or monochromatic sets and oddball costumes and hairstyles, it very much is the work of a visual artist. The New York Observer called it a “Space Age Day-Glo Feature Film.” (There is a credited screenwriter, John Hime.)
There is, for instance, the pink spider named Stella that runs amok through Moon World’s infrastructure, a massage parlor where a woman pushes her feet through floor slots to be rubbed by truculent employees a floor below, and a greeter (played by luxuriant-haired Punk rocker Ian Svenonius) who sits behind a curvilinear opening in a lavender wall and makes strange pronouncements to new arrivals.
“I didn’t originally think of it as an extension of my art, but seeing where it ended up and how the color and visuals are important things in the movie, it probably relates to my paintings,” Reeder says by phone from Detroit. “I have a lot of recurring light pastels and things like that, and I have that kind of palette in my work.”
Reeder, 44 and an Ann Arbor, Mich., native, has developed a distinctive career as a contemporary artist whose paintings transcend any one category. He’s also a bit of a jokester — he ran a comedy venue called Club Nutz. He has also collaborated with brother Tyson, who worked on this film, and wife Elysia Borowy-Reeder, currently executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.
This is only the finished film’s second presentation — it had two New York screenings in November. Reeder spent some 10 years making Moon Dust off and on, working in Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit and finally Los Angeles, amassing some 80 hours of total footage that eventually was edited with collaborators. Throughout it all, he diligently used his Panasonic DVX-100 camera.
The key to getting finished was his ability to construct and paint new sets and shoot footage at a large L.A. gallery run by the artist Laura Owens and shop owner Wendy Yao.
Reeder became interested in filmmaking when he worked as an editor on documentarian Chris Smith’s 1999 American Movie, an indie classic that follows some enthusiastic Milwaukeeans trying to make a horror film. That resulted in him working with his brother and Smith on short videos for a website.
“That was a time when nobody had fast connections — it was 10 years too early,” he says. “But I think I learned a lot and it got me thinking I could make a movie. I started to think about narrative and if I could make a feature for no money in my free time. That was sort of how Chris always operated.”
In thinking of a subject, Reeder turned to Pop music for inspiration — Electronica pioneers Kraftwerk and their 1981 Computer Games, especially.
“I liked the style of it — this kind of low-tech future,” Reeder says. “And Kraftwerk has this understated humor — everything is kind of deadpan but to me a little bit funny and a little bit dystopian.”
As for the idea of a slatternly moon resort as a setting: “I guess I thought it was not out of the realm of possibilities,” Reeder says. “There is space tourism in the works and it seems like where the first wave might happen.
“For humor and narrative purposes, it seems like a sad an lonely place, too. I thought it would be like Coney Island and had seen better days.”
CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: [email protected]