As recent, especially feminist, film theory has pointed out, classical Hollywood productions influence, if not to say control, our collective consciousness, the psychology of the public and the public imagination, and not least, our understanding of power relations, the relations between people and between the sexes
- Jacob Lillemose
Jesper Just: Only a Man
To date, only one artist’s work has captivated me enough to bring me back to see the work five times. The thirty-two year old Danish video artist recently closed his second solo show at the Perry Rubenstein Gallery – easily trumping all other shows that I’ve seen in Chelsea in the last four months. In his premiere of It Will All End in Tears, Jesper Just sets up a highly composed, cinematic masterpiece. Referencing the clichéd Hollywood filmic experience, Just composes exaggerated dramas with ambiguous narratives that surreptitiously critique notions of the male gender.
The first realization I had with It Will All End in Tears¸ was that its super-high fidelity separates it from most other video artworks. Jesper Just’s films look like ten-million dollar blockbuster productions. Employing professional actors and a full film crew, his films immediately conjure up associations with popular media – surprising us when it lacks the cohesion and continuity normally requisite at movie theaters.
It Will All End in Tears is a three part film, which chronicles the exchange between an older man, played by Alex Wipf, and his younger, emotional counterpart, played by Johannes Lilleore. In the first part, the setting is a misty, dreamlike Japanese garden with bridges and decorative walls. We are introduced to the Alex Wipf who stumbles into the scene in an agitated state. At some point, Wipf notices Johannes Lilleore in the distance; smiling, but reticent atop a bridge. After a wordless exchange of tears and desiring gazes, the elder floats into the air, singing a dramatic ballad in a barely audible tone. The next scene arrives, and the old man takes the place of a suspect in a dark, harshly lit courtroom. The younger man is on the floor and there is a jury panel comprised of a dozen members of the Finish Screaming Men’s Choir. As the name suggests, the choir screams out “with an accusatory rendition of ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin,’ by Cole Porter,” while Wipf displays a range of shock and sadness, and Lilleore remains smiling and disengaged (Kastner, http://query.nytimes.com). Finally, the shot opens on the roof of a Queens building, overlooking the Manhattan skyline at night. In a terrified furry, the older man runs across the roof and climbs the armature of a billboard. Meanwhile, the Screaming Choir appears on the roof, and at the conclusion of a long, screaming Finnish ballad, all jump off the roof simultaneously. Moments later the sky erupts with fireworks and the film ends.
Through the use of dark lighting and ambiguous spaces, Just transports us into the setting of a terrible dream. Although the film makes transitions that should reference character development and a continuing narrative, we really know very little about what the films is addressing. The relationship between Wipf and Lilleore is at times reminiscent of a dream of the past; the elder’s past life revisiting him in the form of a beautiful, stoic young man. In this case, Wipf is afraid of knowing the truth of what he’s done. He is constantly avoiding admittance – he rejects the knowing gaze of his past, cowers at the accusation form the jury, and flees to a roof-top to finally come to grips with whatever he’s done.
At other times, the relationship seems to be a Father to a Son, where the role of each is reversed. Whereas in most Hollywood representations of father and son interactions, the father is detached, dispassionate, and semi-omniscient and the son is actively pursuing the affection and approval of the father. In It Will All End in Tears, Jesper Just makes the Father the pursuer and the son the pursued.
By flipping these conventional relationship structures, Just is not so much proposing a new way of being, as he is questioning the old. His representations are not supposed to be viewed as ideals; instead, they expose the problems with the current paradigm - specifically by representing its anti-image. Jesper Just portrays men in highly emotional roles, and “on first sight, they appear almost comical, their masculine aspect contrasting clumsily with their sentimentality” (Corbetta, http://www.jesperjust.com/).
Furthermore, I think his critique extends to film culture itself. Film is not only a reflection of our culture, but a significant factor in how it’s molded. Movies, in a large way, decide what masculinity means and as Just points out, act as an emotional barrier for men. Jesper Just’s works “emphasize that men do not live in vacuous isolation, but in a dialogical state, in a context of social reciprocity with other men” (Kern, http://www.jesperjust.com)....