The mise-en-abîme of filmmaker Loris Gréaud’s ‘Sculpt’

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Change that is imposed by the will of the individual does not occur until there is frustration. Without this sense of frustration there will be a lack of conviction. The person who tries to lose weight by attending the gym but failing to abide by a healthy diet or the smoker who keeps having one last cigarette are circumstances in which the individual has not reached a level of frustration that will motivate them to endure the pain required to change. This frustration, this anger, is the element of fire that fuels our passion to demolish old systems of behavior and belief so that we can reconstruct new systems.

Man cannot remake himself without suffering, for he is both the marble and the sculptor. – Alexis Carrel

Loris Gréaud, Sculpt, LACMA

Loris Gréaud, Sculpt, still images, 2016 © Loris Gréaud, Gréaudstudio.

Sculpt does not follow a linear plot. There is a consistent thread of ruminations from a man, played by Willem Dafoe, who in an attempt to control and manipulate a market explores the interweaving of freedom and bondage. His theories and realizations circulate like a Möbius strip that bend his, our, perception of fiction and reality. His world is turned inside out. He plays with the very film reels that film him. We watch a film that watches itself watch us. The fiction that is projected on the screen reflects into the reality of the theater. This reflection expands beyond Sculpt as a film into a greater art project envisioned by director Loris Gréaud.

Sculpt is scarcely a social science fiction movie. It depicts an international market organized around new shapes and experiences, all the more sought-after as they are almost unattainable. Thought recording and fascination for the inner space are no longer fantasies but truly the object of a global market, which thrives on a quest for these moments of pure intensity, beauty, experiences, thought, and obsessions. – Loris Gréaud

This depiction of “an international market organized around new shapes and experiences” is not merely manifested within the plot of the film, but is reflected throughout the film’s production, exhibition, and distribution. Sculpt recently screened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from August 16 through the 30th. For its 50 minute duration only one person at a time was allowed to view the film, with only 3-6 screenings daily, making this film nearly unattainable.

Unattainable and obsession are polar opposites of the same spectrum. There is another flavor of frustration we have all experienced, and that occurs when our obsession is not satiated. The screening experience for Sculpt reversed serving the audience’s sense of entitlement for accessibility as a consumer and the theater’s platform to distribute a product to the masses. The film audience mentality, especially in Hollywood the capital of the film industry, is that we demand access to your product. Gréaud limited access by only allowing one person per screening, and those individuals who did acquire a ticket to Sculpt did so by being on LACMA’s website at 9am to go through several steps to confirm a reservation. The hermetic process of ticket reservation engendered a quality of frustration, in an excited sense of the term.

Loris Gréaud, Sculpt

Loris Gréaud, Sculpt, making of, 2016 © Loris Gréaud, Gréaudstudio.

Gréaud furthermore extends this reversal of film consumption by rejecting the offers from major distributors who would have been able to press the film in excessive quantities to distribute worldwide and to create online downloads for purchase, making the film accessible to all at the click of a button— all of which reflects concepts within the film. Independent filmmakers are fortunate when they get accepted into a film festival, but quite often the festival circuit is as far as their film will get distributed. Finding a distributor who can channel the film into the market is the filmmaker’s chance to cash in. But Gréaud rejected all offers for major distribution. Instead, he is working with film pirates to distribute the film via the internet dark web.

The next phase of Sculpt as a greater ongoing project will involve web-based piracy, underground screenings, and burning DVD copies for illegal distribution. Sculpt is punk as both a business model and as a film. So worry not if you could not attend the first phase that took place at LACMA, there is still potential for you to experience Gréaud’s vision.

Loris Greaud, Sculpt

Loris Gréaud, Sculpt, making of, 2016 © Loris Gréaud, Gréaudstudio.

The film itself also challenges the status quo through its unique production and the structure of the final edit. Sculpt’s structure overloads the senses. There is narration on top of dialogue, on top of subtitles. One cannot pay full-attention to three layers of dialogue simultaneously while paying attention to the visuals, while listening to the other sounds. Interestingly, the technique of hypnosis is to overload the senses so that the mind shuts down and enters a meditative state.

Gréaud explained that there are six different edits for this film. Even a standard full-length edit I guarantee would not hit Syd Field’s plot points or Joseph Campbell’s character arc. This is not a plot- or character-driven film. Technically it would be placed in the avant-garde/experimental film category— but you’re not going to be able to purchase this film at Barnes & Noble or watch it on Netflix so those categories are irrelevant.

Loris Greaud, Sculpt

Loris Gréaud, Sculpt, still images, 2016 © Loris Gréaud, Gréaudstudio.

Concerning the content of the film, the frustration in the context of madness and investigation, is a disconcerting philosophical treatise more than it is a narrative. Sculpt quite literally carves out ideas and concepts that address the design of the modern film industry, but more so, from my interpretation, puts a spotlight on the linchpin of identity, which shines through social programs such as consumerism in the film industry. It analyzes the concept of how the individual is bound. It questions our concept of freedom and investigates how restriction multiplies, beginning with the individual and extending to the obsessions of thriving cities.

What we experience, what I experienced, watching Sculpt was an abstract discourse concerning the constitution, the construction and the deconstruction of form. The dissection of social and cognitive structures is the chisel hitting marble. The title defines the complete experience of Sculpt from its production to its distribution. Sculpt is a verb, indicating a process, rather than the noun ‘sculpture’, which would indicate a destination, a fixed form. Life is constantly transforming, yet we identify as being fixed in form. Life is a cycle of degeneration and regeneration.

Loris Greaud, Sculpt

Loris Gréaud, Sculpt, making of, 2016 © Loris Gréaud, Gréaudstudio.

I can’t let in the light. It will destroy my performance like light destroys film. ― James Dean

In the darkness of the theater we sit to view the illuminations on the screen. In the darkness of meditation we see the inner light of the mind. Darkness is a gateway to enlightenment. Lucifer is the angel that rejected an external authority and entered the depths of darkness to unveil the authority of an inner light. The laws and customs of institutions and society act as an authority, a guiding light. To reject that light, to challenge its value, is to enter darkness. It is not evil. There is no good or evil in this context of light and dark. The guiding Light of the liberated individual comes from within, even if they apply institutional laws to their lifestyle, it is their inner Light that directs them to do so, not the conditioning, the light, of an institution. Through the untangling of institutional bondage this Luciferian principle is acknowledge, it is inherent, in Sculpt. The film shuts out the light.

Loris Greaud, Sculpt

Loris Gréaud, Sculpt, still images, 2016 © Loris Gréaud, Gréaudstudio.

During the Q & A at LACMA I asked Gréaud if this film was produced as a spiritual mission to raise and evolve consciousness. In short, the answer was no—not that this answer necessarily negates any esoteric intention. I addressed the spiritual aspect of Sculpt, because whether or not Gréaud intended or is aware of, Sculpt at LACMA was in essence a ritual and the film can still, and will, be used as a hypersigil, which I feel comfortable stating due to the fact that ceremonial magicians and occultists attended both his Q & A and the screening. The occult community has an eye on this film, and the Voodoo Queen Priestess Miriam Chamanito owns the master copy. I think it’s safe to say that the interest for her and other occultists lies beyond the film project’s social and experimental components. Gréaud stated that Priestess Chamanito “cursed” the film reels, which were used to film Sculpt. During the Q & A Gréaud explained that the association of the word ‘curse’ with evil or bad is not necessarily a complete understanding. A curse, often can be a blessing in disguise. I would say that the Priestess ‘charged’ the film with a spell.