Saturday October 26, 1996
In 1982, Nina Menkes, one of America's most venturesome filmmakers, and her sister and collaborator Tinka went off to northeastern Africa and shot a series of dreamlike sequences in which Tinka appears as a woman with a sad, pained expression on her face. Menkes put aside this footage, in which she has said that she had wanted to make a connection between the treatment of women and Third World nations by "the dominant Western culture."
Years later she came across an article in The Times about a Marine--a Gulf War veteran--who was found by military police on routine patrol, digging a hole in the Mojave Desert in which to bury the bloody corpse of his wife.
Menkes was thus inspired to make her most demanding yet resonant film yet, "The Bloody Child." Casting Tinka as one of the military police officers who discovered that dazed Marine, Menkes creates a challenging meditation upon violence. Her point of departure is the very long wait on a desert highway of the two officers, joined by several other Marines, for authorities to arrive to complete the arrest of the bloodied Marine. His dead, pregnant wife--hence, the film's title--is sprawled in the back seat of their car. (One Marine, consumed with horror, keeps shoving the face of the arrested Marine into his wife's corpse.)
This lengthy stretch of time allows for the impact of this savage but sadly banal killing to sink in, connecting it with carnage in the Gulf War and causing us to ponder how the sheer volume of violence in the world is so numbing it for the most part washes right over us.
With the roadside site where the Marines wait as her anchor, Menkes starts creating her film's intricate structure composed of her characteristically beautiful, disturbing and emotion-charged images. As she moves back in time to the officers' finding the Marine digging the grave, she intercuts the northeastern African sequences as a way of expressing the female officer's state of mind--of how the murder has affected her behind her implacable, resolute facade.
Moving ever more freely back and forth in time and place, Menkes also incorporates scenes in bars of off-duty Marines picking up women. Menkes then overlays her images with fragments of the witches' speeches from "Macbeth," the Lord's Prayer and keening, moaning sounds--all of which is suggestive that the spirit of the murdered woman is hovering over that desert scene.
The spirit has a visual correlative as we watch the figure of Tinka Menkes, naked and covered with white powder, sitting stunned in a jungle clearing, tracing letters on her arm--a figure felicitously described by critic Lea Russo as "the ghost of our collective unconscious, inflicting pain on ourselves and the world."
"The Bloody Child," in which Menkes worked with real Marines, is an awe-inspiring, rigorous work of art on the highest level that asks of us to give ourselves over completely to its images and sounds so as to make whatever connections we will. It leaves us thinking about how much of the violence in the world is specifically directed toward women and how its brutalizing aftereffects on our psyches are as hard to dispose of as nuclear waste.
On Nov. 2 at noon, the Nuart will present Menkes' 1987 "Magdalena Viraga," a boldly imaginative and rigorous experimental first feature in which Menkes evokes the spiritual awakening of a benumbed young prostitute (Tinka Menkes) in starkly beautiful imagery and in passages from the poetry of Mary Daly, Gertrude Stein and Anne Sexton.
Menkes draws upon seedy, vivid East Los Angeles locales to suggest an unnamed Latin police state to create a most realistic and compelling atmosphere in which her heroine's inner life begins to awaken.
At noon on Nov. 3, the theater will screen Menkes' taxing, shimmering, hypnotic "Queen of Diamonds" (1991), in which the pale, beautiful Tinka plays a Las Vegas blackjack dealer whose monotonous existence is punctuated by her ritual caring for a dying old man. What Menkes does--and what few filmmakers can get away with--is to hold a shot for a very long time, creating a feeling of time passing, of life being lived in an indifferent universe.
Tacky, barren side-street Vegas is a perfect locale for Menkes' vision of alienation and decay as she evokes a sense of the eternal cycle of life and death with both scenes of a marriage and of a funeral.
The Bloody Child, 1996. Unrated. A Filmforum presentation. Producer-director-editor Nina Menkes. Conceived and edited by Nina Menkes and Tinka Menkes. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. Tinka Menkes as Captain. Sherry Sibley as Murdered wife. Russ Little as Sergeant. Robert Mueller as Murderer. Jack O'Hara as Enlisted man.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times