Michael Robinson’s Circle in the Sand (2012) opens with, and eventually returns to, a manifesto as utopian as it is cryptic: a call for blowing up all “knowledge from within” and replacing it with a void, devoid of “man” in the masculine sense, “where sensitivity regroups to rediscover itself.” While this systemic semiotic do-over might sound impossibly dreamy, it could feasibly serve as a description for Anthology Film Archives's crucial Cinema of Gender Transgression series, now in its second year. Programmers (and filmmakers) Joey Carducci, Madsen Minax, and S.H. Varino shy about as far away from standard, canonical queer and trans representation as possible in favor of work that’s unruly, rarely seen in theatrical spaces, and blissfully full of actual genderqueer and trans bodies both on and behind camera.
The trio of femmes that wander across an oceanside wasteland (filmed in part at Brooklyn’s Fort Tilden) in Circle in the Sand are trying to scrape together the remains of Western civilization, which has been obliterated by an off-screen but occasionally heard conflict. They prowl the shores covered in sequins, unearthing reflective sunglasses, fake nails, People magazines, and a sun-baked, horrifically glitched-out CD containing Counting Crow’s “Colorblind” (the Cruel Intentions soundtrack, perhaps?) and are left to construct a culture from these ephemeral scraps. A gospel is constructed from an anonymous Yelp review bemoaning a bougie bistro with bad fruit. They fare much better with a worn copy of Margeurite Duras’ classic beach read Destroy, She Said. Robinson’s other work (such as Onward Lossless Follows, which played at NYFF last year) is primarily montage; repurposing pop culture—Full House, Michael Jackson videos, stranger danger PSAs—within unexpected, and unexpectedly moving, contexts. Circle is the live action equivalent of this approach, shot on wide format super 16mm, washed in a glittering haze. It reminded me of Ulrike Ottinger’s work, much of which I’ve only been able to see due to last year’s Gender Transgression series; an experience free of coherence and intellectualization where desire and sensitivity runs rampant over reason.
The Near Futures program pairs the film with curator and filmmaker Madsen Minax’s The Year I Broke My Voice (2012), which takes snippets of dialogue from 80s teen films and stages them as abstract vignettes in a post-industrial seaside town inhabited by a crew of gender-ambiguous young people struggling to connect. The result is close to a languid, lo-fi Gregg Araki where violence is spoken of but never shown. Minax will appear in person.