An experimental l6mm feature, A Shape of Error is based on the life of Percy Bysshe Shelley and his second wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley— writers whose lives forecast the modern in their concern for women, free love and labor. Child retells their story as an imaginary home movie, using strategies developed in her earlier films—The Future Is Behind You (2004-05) and Covert Action (1984)— to shape a new kind of narrative. With sound by the acclaimed composer Zeena Parkins (who has worked with John Zorn and Bjork), non-actors in the lead roles and silently shot with Child's l6mm camera, A Shape of Error is an original—startlingly emotional and engrossing.
Home movies are powerful and convincing; they “look like us,” “authentic” by their very nature. To use this form to tell the Shelleys' tale allows a logic of intimacy, an immediate physical setting, a strategy of interruption, a realistic and documentary look as well as a renewed historical and political point of view into a story that combines issues of ideology and feminism, poetry and the dangers of extreme belief—all still alive in the contemporary.
While at the American Academy in Rome as a Fellow in the Visual Arts, Child was able to use Rome and Italy from fall 2009 through summer 2010 for her spectacular settings. The result is gorgeous; the story compelling. Bringing cinematic possibilities into these lives, before cinema was invented, the piece asserts itself as imaginary, yet attempts a reconstruction of the real, holding true to external public events and the inner lives of the characters, chiefly the female 'characters', as revealed through their diaries.
The piece has become the first in a Trilogy of Women and Ideology. With A Shape of Error, she explores the Romanticism of the l9th century through the life of Mary Shelley. The second in the series to be a portrait of Emma Goldman and Utopianism, in black and white imaginary 'home movies', shot in New York City to recapture the early 20th century.
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