First Run Features // 2009 // 82 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // July 10th, 2010
Zen and the art of babbling while singing and writhing.
It's hard to describe Meredith Monk's work but maybe this will help, Bjork is a big fan and Laurie Anderson is too. Meredith does abstract singing, often just making nonsensical noises over a cello, piano, or a capella. Her dance is unstructured as well, pure movement without clear narrative thrust. She is what I would call "a comforting smear" of emotion when she performs, an impressionistic performance artist who deals in the indescribable. Monk's stage performances include several performers contributing to an abstract collage of sights and sounds. If you're curious, in the "Accomplices" section to the right I have included a link to a YouTube clip of her singing.
If you're averse to performance art and crazy zen white ladies then Meredith Monk: Inner Voice may not be for you. It's a documentary about Meredith Monk who has blended singing exercises, theatre, film, dance, opera, and visual art to create her amazingly strange work and successful career in the arts. The piece is made up of a wealth of materials including personal archives, film clips of performances, and interviews with her collaborators, as well as conversations with the artist herself to document her forty plus years as a performance artist and living legend. What is most surprising in this documentary is how it makes the connection between Buddhism and her work, and truly ties the two together. When I heard Meredith Monk, I thought it was rather like nonsense based on vocal exercises, but now I can see how clearly Buddhist chanting and the "ohms" have influenced her. Meredith Monk is a pure performer who talks about always being present and alive in her work. She's a hippie theatre gal who injects passion into every little movement or sound.
First Run Features provides a technically nice DVD for the film, which showcases Meredith Monk's career and personal life. It was shot on HD handheld camera by a close friend, so the picture is clear and intimate during the present day interview portions. Other clips are culled from various sources, and accordingly differ in quality with age and condition. Extras include a video performance of "Dolmen Music" recorded recently as well as a magazine interview which is offered as a text file.
Most people are simply not going to recognize Meredith Monk, or will only recall her as someone who was featured on the soundtrack of The Big Lebowski. Thanks to this documentary a few more may be introduced to this creative genius, a lady who discovered new abstract ways to move and make sound. It's an excellent portrait of an important American artist who continues on today making strange and wonderful works for us to enjoy. She meditates on life, love, and the mysterious beauty of a voice just cooing and aahing their way through an emotionally turbulent landscape.
Guilty of having few lyrics and little sense, Meredith Monk is shown here as
a mother of abstract invention.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Video Clip: Meredith Monk