De Profundis (1997)
Black and White / Color
Starring Agnes de Garron and Mark Miller with Leon Ko and the Radical Faeries
Music by Frederic Rzewski, with additional compositions by Douglas Cohen and Lawrence Brose.
Piano and Voice performance by Frederic Rzewski
Studio lighting and design by Keith Gemerek
De Profundis is a mesmerizing and seductive investigation of Oscar Wilde's project of Transgressive Aesthetics. Incorporating home movies from the 1920s and early gay male erotica along with images from Radical Faerie gatherings and queer pagan rituals, radical drag performances, and images of confinement, the film sets up a haunting investigation of queerness masculinity, history, and sexuality.
In the film, Lawrence Brose adopts a three-part strategy to investigate the historical implications of sexuality, gender construction, and language; explore Oscar Wilde's poetics, and critique the homogenization of the contemporary gay movement. De Profundis employs experimental hand and alternative chemical processing techniques to alter the original images. The transformed footage addresses the fixed framing of masculinity while questioning concepts of redemption, contamination, and transgression set against critical readings of Wilde and contemporary gay culture. These images are buttressed against a soundtrack composed of Wilde aphorisms, a score by Frederic Rzewski, and multi-tracked interviews of diverse contemporary gay men.
The film begins with a short story told by Kenny Cooper, a New York Radical Faerie, about his first experience with public sex in a movie theatre. The story sets up an initial descent into the worlds of public vs. private, sexual deviance, and movies. Following this story are 19 sound loops woven together of Agnes de Garron's readings of Wilde aphorisms being delivered in various vocal personas. The readings have been composed into sound loops by composer Douglas Cohen and work to focus the viewer onto Wilde's use of language and his transgressive aesthetics set up against authority, revealing the paradox of language as a containing and defining force. The sound loops also function to establish the language of Wilde before his "fall into disgrace,” which the letter DeProfundis revels in.
Part II of the film is constructed around the score, a musical setting of Wilde's prison letter. Images of Radical Faerie ritual gatherings, pagan witch performances, images of confinement and struggle, and drag performances by Agnes de Garron (a founding member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence) function as contamination to the contained image of Wilde, as presented in the words and music. These images work to corrupt the romantic existentialism of personal redemption and sorrow of the prison letter.
In Part III, the soundtrack is a sound environment of colliding voices from several sources that question the framing of a singular voice in the 1990's gay movement and thereby shatter an ideological framework of normalization. The soundtrack, much like the images in the film, functions to call language into question through continual shifts of focus within the layers as a kind of palimpsest or a polyphonic poetics that problematizes narrative conventions, piercing the skin of a homogenous unified voice.