The Filmballad of Mamadada tells the story of Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, unsung member of the New York Dada movement. A poet, artist, model, and public provocateur, the Baroness defied the social and artistic codes of her time. As with many of her female contemporaries, the Baroness’ cultural legacy has been obscured, and in some instances appropriated into the oeuvres of better known male peers. Accounts of her personal life are scarce and often conjectural.
According to recent scholarship, the Baroness was born Else Hildegard Plötz in 1874. At age 18, she ran away from her middle-class Prussian home and survived as a vaudeville performer in Berlin. After a series of bohemian lovers and three failed marriages, she found herself penniless in New York City, a widow with the impressive title of Baroness von Freytag-Loringhoven. The Baroness was notorious for wearing outlandish costumes and cross-dressing in public, and her overtly sexual poetry caused such scandal that she was blacklisted from the most avant-garde publications. She pioneered an assemblage aesthetic, making sculptures and clothing from everyday objects. Many believe she gave Marcel Duchamp the porcelain urinal that later became Fountain. An important figurehead for the fledgling Dada movement in America, the Baroness was a close friend of avant-garde luminaries such as Djuna Barnes, Berenice Abbot, William Carlos Williams, and Ezra Pound.
The Baroness died under mysterious circumstances in 1927. In 2012, Lily Benson and Cassandra Guan recruited a group of over fifty artists and filmmakers to produce a collective biopic about her life. Participants were invited to interpret specific biographical fragments and create filmic adaptations on their own terms. The results varied wildly in style and content: from a re-contextualized Jane Fonda interview, to an animation depicting the effects of syphilis, to a reconstruction of a lost 16mm film by Duchamp and Man Ray. Benson and Guan then assembled the vignettes into a feature-length film. Unfolding like an exquisite corpse, the final narrative reveals a gloriously conflicted historical portrait. A myriad of contemporary feminist voices present the viewer with more questions than answers.
Contributing artists to this project include Leslie Allison, Animals, Raoul Anchondo, Mauricio Arango, Doug Ashford, Harold Batista, Gregory Benson, Lily Benson, Caitlin Berrigan, Clara Carter, Lea Cetera, Joanne K. Cheung, Abigail Childs, Abigail Colins, Katy Cool, Cecilia Corrigan, Graham Corrigan, Alex DeCarli, EASTER, Chitra Ganesh, Alex Golden, Cassandra Guan, Jorun Jonasson, Prudence Katze, Simone Krug, Joyce Lainé, William Lehman, Alexandra Lerman, Ming Lin, Thomas Love, Rob Lowe, Kirby Mages, Markues, Mores McWreath, Erin Jane Nelson, Anne Marte Overaa, Michala Paludan, Leah Pires, Sunita Prasad, Joanna Quigley, Will Rahilly, Amy Reid, Isaac Richard, Doron Sadja, Saki Sato, Frances Scholz, Dash Shaw, Josephine Shokrian, Sydney Shen, Beau Sievers, Shelly Silver, Ursula Sommer, Jim Strong, Aaron Vinton, and James N. Kienitz Wilkins.
Trailer Editor: Cassandra Guan
Calligrapher: Thomas Love
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