And We All Shine On

By Genevieve Yue

The first film Michael Robinson made, at age 11, was a home-movie remake of Poltergeist, later repurposed into Carol Anne Is Dead (1992/2008). In both, Robinson’s sister presses her palms to the glass of a television monitor, its screen glowing with static. It’s a fitting image for Robinson’s pop distortions, indicating the filmmaker’s willingness to get close to his objects. The motif of the television set returns in Light Is Waiting (2007). In a scene from the sugary ‘80s sitcom Full House, two teenage girls carry a heavy monitor up a flight of stairs and accidentally drop it over the bannister. The impact launches a stroboscopic, slow-motion journey to a remote island; by splitting and mirroring the frame down the middle, Robinson holds the crashed TV image up to its own involuted weirdness.

Robinson’s films describe a pop-cultural terrain, found-footage puzzles culled from the media archive of his own childhood. Instead of ironic detachment, however, Robinson taps directly into the powers of pop. He allows the jumbled fragments of Top 40 hits and after-school specials to crash spectacularly, and in doing so exposes their overwhelming force, still potent even when severed from their sources. Robinson gives in to the seductions of media, the hallucinatory spell of melodramatic or horrific excess, the rush of science fiction’s utopian promises, and even the austere aesthetics of 16mm experimental film, and emerges on the other side, though not entirely unscathed. The viewer, too, is sometimes left with a momentary retinal burn.

Often we hear echoes of an empty orchestra, a familiar sound that can’t quite be placed. The instrumental strains of “November Rain” in Victory Over the Sun (2007) impart a sense of hollow grandeur, while the synth karaoke sweep of “Nothing Compares 2 U” in And We All Shine On (2006) fills a 16-bit videogame landscape with longing and loss. If There Be Thorns (2009), meanwhile, explicitly attempts to make present what’s missing. Castaway on a desert island—the same, perhaps, as the nightmare paradise of Light Is Waiting—Robinson searches for traces of his scattered siblings. Their reunion occurs in a flickering blaze that, as subtitles from an appropriated Shirley Jackson novel tell us, also resembles the fire that flung them apart. Has he truly found them, or is this merely a memory, a dream? Fleetwood Mac’s lonely “Storms” plays at film’s end, and though the words aren’t sung here, they haunt the film nonetheless: “Every night you do not come, your softness fades away.”


Tagged with →  


Friend me on FacebookFollow me on TwitterRSS Feed

From the Magazine

  • Cinema Scope 82: Table of Contents

    Interviews A State of Uncertainty: Tsai Ming-liang on Days by Darren Hughes New Possible Realities: Heinz Emigholz on The Last City by Jordan Cronk This More →

  • A State of Uncertainty: Tsai Ming-liang on Days

    There’s no exact precedent for the long creative collaboration between Tsai Ming-liang and Lee Kang-sheng. In 1991, as the story goes, Tsai stepped out of a screening of a David Lynch movie and spotted Lee sitting on a motorbike outside of an arcade. More →

  • New Possible Realities: Heinz Emigholz on The Last City

    The Last City, the new film by Heinz Emigholz, begins with a confession. “And it was a straight lie when I told you that I had an image that could describe the state of my depression,” admits a middle-aged archaeologist to a weapons designer (played, respectively, by John Erdman and Jonathan Perel, who were previously seen in Emigholz's 2017 film Streetscapes [Dialogue] as a filmmaker and his analyst). “I made that up.” Part reintroduction, part recapitulation, this abrupt admission sets the conceptual coordinates for a film that, despite its presentation and the familiarity of its players, is less a continuation of that earlier work’s confessional mode of address than a creative reimagining of its talking points. More →

  • This Dream Will Be Dreamed Again: Luis López Carrasco’s El año del descubrimiento

    Luis López Carrasco’s dense, devious El año del descubrimiento confirms his reputation as Spain’s foremost audiovisual chronicler of the country’s recent past, albeit one for whom marginal positions, materiality, everyday chitchat, and the liberating effects of fiction are as, if not more, important than grand historical events. More →

  • Long Live the New Flesh: The Decade in Canadian Cinema

    Let’s get it right out of the way: by any non-subjective metric—which is to say in spite of my own personal opinion—the Canadian filmmaker of the decade is Xavier Dolan, who placed six features (including two major Competition prizewinners) at Cannes between 2009 (let’s give him a one-year head start) and 2019, all before turning 30. Prodigies are as prodigies do, and debating Dolan’s gifts as a transnational melodramatist and zeitgeist-tapperis a mug’s game, one that I’ve already played in these pages. More →