TURTLE DREAMS (Robert Withers, Meredith Monk, 1981, 1987)

“Turtle Dreams” superimposes a turtle on top of a map of the world, more likely dreaming of extending its mobility rather than of military conquest, to which human dream in other films such movements across a map conventionally refer. Nevertheless, the turtle, exceedingly vulnerable underneath its shell, is like an army tank; and the turtle’s benign “invasion” of a deserted complex of darkened city streets again emphasizes the turtle’s dreamy compensation for this vulnerability. This black-and-white fantasy, with its miniature sets, casts the dreamer’s natural “slow motion” as a sign of strength, as does its relative immense size: all, all compensatory for the reality of its smallness and vulnerability. The abandonment of the indicated location, which will be bustling with activity in daylight, in the wee hours projects not only dreaminess but a certain forlornness, solitudinousness. Perhaps the film is anthropomorphic; it is just as likely that it is metaphoric and really about us. We also want the room to “move around” without being crushed.
     This is a lovely piece of work for all its 11 minutes. The DVD case—two half-hour films by Robert Withers are also included on the DVD (www.cinesouvenir.com)—explains: “[This is a s]hort film by Robert Withers and Meredith Monk composed of scenes projected during Meredith Monk’s [Specimen Days: a civil war opera]. Performed 1981 at the PublicTheater, New York.” There is also a 27-minute video version (www.meredithmonk.org).
     Given the reference to “civil war” in the Monk title, one imagines that the film is, at some level, a dreaming oneself out of war, a dream of peace.


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