To say that the directorial intents of "Valor's Kids" and Heironimo's trilingual mise en abyme in Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy are kindred spirits would not be in bad faith. Nor, in fact, is the comparison overwrought- what better way to introduce one of the most withering social commentaries ever wrenched from the splenetic gorge of an artist than to reach into the very tragedies upon which such criticism is built? Imagine that the anti-narrative bent of Lawrence Sterne mixed with the frightening artistic self-awareness of William Heminges; only then can one begin to imagine where director Kai Mariah begins her theatrical "installation".
In what is quite clearly an early hat-tip to Kyd, we as the viewer are thrust immediately into "Valor"'s framing device- the menu selection screen shows us a reel of proof footage, on which we are viewing snippets of the film to come. This mirrors directly the prologue of The Spanish Tragedy, in which Don Andrea and Revenge are introduced as both watchers and (unwilling) participants in the play. Clearly, we, from the outset, are Mariah's surrogate. Framed as both director and viewer, we are thus forced into the role of effective steward for this film. This is supported by the torrential effluence of the production stills in the "special features" section- like the interrelated records in Danielewski's House of Leaves we are left with a trail of evidence suggesting that our relationship to the movie runs deep. This sets up the movie's grand joke on the viewer, one in which the viewer willingly becomes the punch line.
Thrust into the role of director, we now must examine the film with the eye of the artist. The melting transitions and disjointed imagery challenge our scriptory authority. We try to regain control by assigning meaning- the long-necked lizard consuming the mammal represents transgressions of the body, of course, but what of the rapidly fluctuating character sizes and uncertain spatial relations? We are thwarted at every turn. Left without recourse, the film cuckolds us- who are we to assign it meaning, to editorialize this post-narrative monolith? The viewer is defeated. We are become the character of the film, to do with as it will.
And who would say that, in "Valor's Kids", we had not found the jouissance of Barthes' text scriptible? The only argument to the contrary is that to demolish the standard codifications of literature, one has to acknowledge them to begin with. By defying the title of "outsider art" by the narrowest of margins (what respectable outsider art would come in a DVD case with box art?), "Valor's Kids" offers a sweeping condemnation of "youtube culture"- the glut of thoughtless content, it says, has reduced us to this. This is the "new art"- plot, art, and substance, all cleft in twain, and the pieces left in our laps.
Thus the great final joke of this film. The ending, such as it is, comes, and the credits roll. We, the unwilling directors, have decided to release the film as is. And can we do otherwise? Quantity, always quantity, over content. And do we not release the film, almost with a sense of pride? To our friends, family, acquaintances? "Look what I found." We the audience have become the acted upon. We have become part of the self-propagating art installation that is "Valor's Kids".
Sterne would have been proud. A Cock and a Bull indeed Ms. Mariah, —And one of the best of its kind, I ever heard.
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