Strange beauty: Anne McGuire, who has a retro-looking soap in progress, closes Cinema by the Bay this weekend with The Anne McGuire Show.

Anne, Anne, Anne: McGuire Comes Alive

Michael Fox October 20, 2009

Anne McGuire finds the beauty in the strange, and the strangeness in the beautiful. That’s not perversity, people; that’s poetry. Working across an incredibly wide range of media, from structuralist art videos to witty works on paper, from re-edited disaster flicks to live musical performance, McGuire has built a distinctive body of work over the last two decades that’s simultaneously raw, delicate and direct. She’s a progenitor of a genre we might call vulnerable bemusement (which is assuredly not the same thing as bemused vulnerability). Eh, forget the labels and the mumbo-jumbo and take it straight from McGuire: "I always want to paint a beautiful and strange picture, possibly."

The San Francisco artist claims the spotlight, literally, at this weekend’s debut Cinema by the Bay festival with a curtain-dropping rendition of The Anne McGuire Show Sunday night. The latest incarnation of her ongoing collaboration with local electronic musician/sample mixer extraordinaire Wobbly showcases the sandpaper personality and smooth vocal stylings of her alter ego, Freddy (pronounced Freedy, rhymes with seedy) McGuire, interspersed with several of Anne’s mysterious and resonant videos.

"I’ve never done a show like this," says McGuire. "I realized I had to weave together a cohesive show. I didn’t want to sing and then show half an hour of art videos that museums and galleries and festivals show. Because I perform and sing in my videos, the cohesiveness is obvious." In one stretch, for example, McGuire and Wobbly will perform a few numbers followed by Joe Dimaggio 1, 2, 3 (1991), which features the filmmaker delivering the goods on the soundtrack.

In the interest of cohesion, McGuire has enlisted pal (and filmmaker) Christian Bruno to serve as master of ceremonies. His duties include posing questions and guiding the performers through the evening, but Anne and Wobbly—who’ve performed together quite a bit on various radio programs and in Baltimore, Brooklyn and Ireland—have their dynamic pretty well down. "It’s an act; it’s not really a band," McGuire volunteers. "It’s the banter between me and Wobbly. He sets the tone with music and I have a whole bunch of my sad love poetry."

It’s an occupational hazard that the audience may conflate Freddy with Anne, but McGuire doesn’t seem fazed by the prospect. Of course, after bravely revealing herself in such confessional works as When I Was a Monster (1996), playing a character onstage looks like pure pleasure from this vantage point. But who is Freddy, exactly?

"She is a lounge singer," McGuire explains. "She would be a piano bar singer if she had a piano, or an accompanist. She has a somewhat antagonistic relationship with a noise artist/sampling keyboard genius. It comes from my earliest childhood memories of early black-and-white TV. I saw Judy Garland: The Early Years and I was smitten. As a child, I thought she was a pathetic character. But I’ve changed my mind. She was wonderful and she was courageous; she just had illnesses."

Black-and-white television, no coincidence, is one of the "lost looks" (as McGuire calls them) that the artist loves to recreate onscreen. All Smiles and Sadness (1999) employs a black-and-white soap opera aesthetic (a snippet is included in the The Anne McGuire Show) while her current video in production is a retro-looking soap made with a "crummy old" Sony camera from the ’80s.

"I’m interested in making work that looks beautiful," McGuire says. "When I pick up a video camera, it is my paintbrush. With my new piece, in combination with a few actors on an empty stage more or less with a black background reciting poetry as dialogue, I think it will look really lovely."

We’ll have to wait a while before McGuire is ready to unveil her latest gem, but The Anne McGuire Show provides a rare opportunity to revisit her earlier work. In a unique framework, we might add.

"It’s new and therefore it’s very exciting," McGuire admits. "I can see the potential for more of these shows and traveling the show, possibly. I just see it as an enhancement. The work is out there and there’s always the potential for new eyeballs and a new audience."

The Anne McGuire Show closes Cinema by the Bay Sunday, October 25, at 9:00 pm at the Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore (at Clay). Her 2006 work, Adventure Poseidon, The (the unsinking of my ship) screens Thursday, October 22, at 6:30 pm at the Jack Hanley Gallery, 395 Valencia, as part of the Night Tide festival.

Notes from the Underground
ATA hosts a free workshop and panel discussion about experimental film exhibition and distribution with Joel Bachar, Maia Carpenter and other local experts tonight, October 21, at 7:30 pm at 992 Valencia (at 21st). Have You Heard from Johannesburg: The Bottom Line, the sixth episode of Connie Field’s stunningly ambitious seven-part history of the global antiapartheid campaign, receives its world premiere October 26 and 28 at the London Film Festival, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the British antiapartheid movement. This is the second film in the opus that Field has finished, with the others to follow shortly. Flynn Witmeyer screens his campy 28-minute narrative about demonic possession and media stereotypes of gays, Imp of Satan, October 26 at 9:30 pm in the weekly Jerri Junkies show at Truck Bar, 1900 Folsom. Henry Jaglom’s Irene in Time played nearly three months in our inviting burg, finally closing October 16

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