Projecting Nim

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07/06/2011 4:00 AM |

Not so unlike Nagisa Oshima’s Max mon amour, in which Charlotte Rampling takes a chimpanzee as a lover, Project Nim (opening July 8) concerns the integration of an ape into bourgeois intimate relations. In interviews over stills and footage from the experimental record and frequent news coverage, researchers recall Nim Chimpsky—the chimp they tried to teach sign language, as a test of Noam Chomsky’s theories about recursion and human grammar—as a catalyst for fracturing marriages and teacher-student couplings; he’s a son to his hippie-dippy surrogate mother and a weed-smoking bud to his Deadhead guardian.

The film is best taken as a study in anthropomorphism, as academics and New Agers try to reverse the tragedy of evolution, seeking communion with this other species by projecting onto Nim (seen variously naked and clothed in diapers, t-shirt with iron-on lettering, and houndstooth check blazer). So too, director James Marsh cuts from remembrances of Nim—described as rambunctious, affectionate, temperamental, lonely as he’s moved across sanctuary and lab—to old headshots, cuing appropriately heartwarming or heartrending music. It’s like a modified Kuleshov experiment, coaxing the viewer into finding the emotions delineated by the story arc in the facial expressions of a chimpanzee. Dramatic moments—infant Nim, wrenched from mother’s grasp with aid of tranquilizer gun—are reenacted in eerie, bleary slo-mo a-la Errol Morris.

A real Errol Morris documentary also opens this fortnight—and Tabloid also concerns fair bit of sentimental projection, devoting its final movement to subject Joyce McKinney’s love of her dog Booger, and her accounts of their practically telepathic rapport, which extends to death’s door and beyond. But then, the central “very special love story” of Tabloid is essentially anthropomorphic, too: Joyce’s obsessive, ocean-spanning love for her missionary boyfriend is, to judge from the accounts Morris assembles from her and others, a fantasy of fairytales and Americana constructed around a bland, ambivalent cipher from a strange culture (Mormonism). Joyce, who compares herself to the Narcissus (finding his lonely gaze at his own reflection poignant and romantic), is in her telling a heroine beset by heroes and villains whose every intention is directed towards her.

You can maybe see what attracted Morris to McKinney: the knowability of the other—other people, times, events, contingencies—has been his lifelong subject, even at his most interrogative, as in The Thin Blue Line. (Marsh is imitating Morris, as well, by circling his interviewees around a single, unchartable point.) “The truth is probably somewhere in between,” more than one person says in Tabloid—a Morris mantra if I’ve ever heard one. My colleague Nicolas Rapold is right, I think, to call the movie “a summary statement for Morris,” and as one of those people who, again in his words, found Standard Operating Procedure to be “insufficiently critical of [its] heated political subject,” I’m glad the filmmaker has found a more authentically mystifying topic to throw up his hands in the face of.

In honoring the supremacy—and the spectacle—of the subjective, Morris is not far from the film theorists who have compared the spectator’s relationship to the movie screen with Lacan’s mirror, through which we learn to perceive ourselves, and comprehend difference. “Perceived-imaginary material is deposited in me as if on a second screen,” wrote Christian Metz in “The Imaginary Signifier.” Which would, I guess, make the projection booth the primordial looking-glass world from whence come the originals we reflect—however imperfectly, as Kuleshov intuited, and with however much double-projection of our own.

One Comment

  • Hey big guy, wanna find out the Truth about the making of the Porno-Doc TABLOID? Call 718-406-1089, Joyce’s manager, and arrange an interview with her. Did you know that TABLOID is NOT the TRUE Joyce McKinney story and Morris is being sued for fifty million for the way he slandered her, and did a counterfeit Joyce McKinney story which caused her severe emotional trauma? (Randy Adams, the subject of Thin Blue Line also sued him and the producers of THAT film. The citizens of Vernon Florida wanted to lynch him. He is hated by the people he does movies about. He first pretends to befriend them– lies about his True Purpose, and then slanders them on camera — twisting the story around for his own glory while making them look bad.) Errol Morris should work for a tabloid himself. He wouldn’t know TRUTH if it bit him in the tail! Did you know Morris’ sleazy producers LIED to Joyce and with a dummy contract, pretended to be from Showtime network “doing a TV series on Paparazzi”, [to get footage on her], then while the deceptive Morris “interviewed” her for this non-existent “TV series”, his cronies ransacked her luggage and STOLE materials for her autobiographical book out of her luggage, two film treatments she had registered with Writer’s Guild, a valuable memorabilia collection of pictures documenting the famous love story, and even home movies and baby pictures belonging to her mother and father? This R rated film TABLOID is so trashy, libelous, and disgusting to Joyce’s Christian family that her mother tried to take her own life and is now in a coma due to the intense slander by Morris’ perverted film (spread by his PR teams and Mormons aiding them in the libelous Mormon sourced kidnap-rape tabloid yarn) portraying her daughter in such a False Light. Morris’ purpose–along with his producers and his Utah connected distributors– was NOT to tell the Truth, but to make her appear unbelievable by making her an object of hatred and public ridicule, so the REAL Joyce McKinney story (of what the tabloids and Mormon cult’s media machine did to her, as well as the dangers of Mormonism upon society) would not be credible. Morris’ people do not have the rights to her love story and they haven’t got the slightest inkling of what the Joyce McKinney story is about. They aren’t intellectual enough. Considering your writing above, maybe YOU are. If you don’t mind a heavy investigative piece, and can handle something deep, give her manager a call. This little gal’s story and the awesome message she has to tell, affects every man, woman, and child, in the US. As for Morris –he will be sued as well as his sources he PAID for the interviews in his film that lied on Joyce. The mega-lawsuit will entail False Light, Misappropriation of Name, Picture, and Likeness, Right to Publicity, Slander, Defamation, and Fraud and Infringement of her registered story which they actually stole and copied on a xerox machine while Morris’ was interviewing her for the Showtime “TV series” which didn’t even exist! They will also pay dearly for the misuse of the stolen photos as their used her picture for their advertising, record albums, and poster, without her consent. (They stole a still photo of her in a harmless college musical, playing Eve in The Apple Tree: and misused the photo to portray her as “Eve in the Garden of Evil tempting Adam”! They also took her MISS USA photo out of her MISS USA Official Pageant Scrapbook, and chopped off her head substituting a cartoon head then portraying her falsely as a sex crazed hussy and “S&M hooker”, then (as if trying to give a sedetive to her for her “crazed sex drive”), they insert a giant hypodermic needle into her vaginal cavity in an obscene way, like a penis! In real life Ms. McKinney was a sexually inexperienced virgin when she met her Mormon fiance.) Had Morris not been in collusion with the Mormons and the tabloids they used in 1977 to spread the kidnap-rape Press Hoax, he could have had a high quality film which COULD have won an Oscar if he had done the TRUE version of her story– by a heavy investigative piece or a true life bio-pic. Instead, like a dirty old man, and money hungry, he sided with the Mormon cult and its fake tabloid version of her story; he only saw sex-sex-sex with his twisted mind. He is obsessed with the tabloid version of Joyce –which is as off base as The Legend of Bigfoot. Maybe next Morris will do a film on Bill Clinton being Kidnapped by Space Aliens– or Kim Kardasian’s Butt Exploding. That’s more his speed and level of intellect.