A genuinely new and original work of media art, Kasumi’s Shockwaves (82 min) is a cinematic tour-de-force that masterfully depicts the dissociative and improvisational nature of the internal monolog of our minds.
Deploying an astonishing 25,000 plus short public domain film samples, rotoscoped film clips, original dance choreography, creative animation and evocative sound design, Shockwaves evokes the intense and unsettling experience of epiphany-like memories through powerfully articulated themes of identity, exile, abandonment, homecoming, disguise and temptation.
Shockwaves is a darkly comic and explosive psychological tale where reality is revealed as a constantly shifting paradox. An intense recipe that includes the biting social satire of “Natural Born Killers,” the hallucinogenic state of “Enter the Void,” and a dash of Wile E. Coyote versus the Road Runner, Shockwaves explores the lasting nature of abusive power and the emotional imprints it leaves behind.
Shockwaves is a window into a man’s mind as he tries to comprehend the transformation of his life from fairy tale to tragedy. He recalls meeting and falling in love with his soul mate, their wedding and their promising future. But fatherhood resurrects the ghosts of abuse, and he is transfigured into the slave of psychic trauma he cannot escape; he plays the part his heritage commands, recapitulating his own father’s role. But trauma and suffering have always through the ages called forth a response. Like an Aeschylean Fury risen from depths unknown, the memory of his savagery wreaks its vengeance and finally annihilates his sinister inheritance.
The stream-of-consciousness depicted in Shockwaves is a dazzlingly complex remix of signs, gestures and actions that underlie meaning within a culture saturated by moving pictures. The film is composed from over 25,000 short film clips derived from both original footage and from public domain movies. Thus, to watch the film is at the same time to experience a man’s life and to be immersed in a kaleidoscopic collage that both drives the story and illustrates the inner and outer lives of the 2 main characters.
Allusions of all possible kinds, cascades of lateral correspondence large and small, simple and complex are the constant background radiation of our existence. We just don’t usual follow those associations very closely or try to assimilate them into what we are “really” thinking. This is what is really remarkable, and revolutionary about Shockwaves. Here we see for the first time a film that doesn’t simply allude fleetingly to the complex interrelations of time and place, thoughts and images that are inherent in any story about human beings, but rather places them right at the center of the experience.
Shockwaves is thus no mere exercise in style; the style and the story are intimately connected. The relationship between a troubled man who was abused as a child and a woman who is in turn abused by him is certainly a story relevant to our times. But in being told through the images the culture supplies to all of us, the story becomes a study of power and violence in society at large. These images come from the cultural commons—1950s B movies, TV commercials, industrial films, and other forgotten but unforgettable products of what was at the time was called a “cultural wasteland”—give the film its hallucinatory and slightly wacky energy and, inevitably, trigger connections in each and every one of us who grew up as denizens of that wasteland. The violence of the man in the story becomes the violence inherent in American culture in the past 60 years. The constraints he places on the woman, and his ever-increasing need to control her, project an image of the “mind” of modern Western culture as much as they reflect a particular individual’s mind.
In its use of appropriated sounds and images to create an entirely original work of art, Shockwaves
inevitably recalls Christian Marclay’s The Clock. But Marclay used extended clips from recognizable - and even classic - movies and, to a significant degree, his film depends on the audience’s knowledge of those
specific films; in contrast, Shockwaves uses clips from throwaway films that nonetheless, torn out of context, convey some meaning instantly comprehensible to the average viewer. In short, Shockwaves is composed from an entirely new cinematic language to tell a recognizable story, a story made for this radically new style of film making.
Thus, as story, form and sound, Shockwaves explores, in addition to the fundamental conventions embedded in imagery, contemporary insights into the formation of memory -- the ways our expectations shape our memories, and the ways our memories shape our expectations. Human memory, after all, is not machine memory, some digital record of past reality. We have memory not to be able to record our lives in memoirs, but, rather, to function more effectively in the present.
Shockwaves is, in short, a film for our present.