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Maureen Turim essay about Bullets for Breakfast

Maureen Turim essay about Bullets for Breakfast


By Holly Fisher

16mm, color, 77 minutes


Juxtapositions: bullets and bulletins, the words and images, objects and voices, hit the screen, repeatedly, in orders that challenge the spectator to decipher. Fisher’s is a film in which American enterprise is closing down, witnessed in the last close-up images of fish being cleaned by strong women’s hands at a soon-to-be-idle manufacturer of smoked herring in Maine. This loss, seen as elegant, imaginary “outtakes” of an “American Agenda” segment (human interest, feature reporting) of US network television, tells its story across the sounds and images of other stories. The documentary is unmade in the weave of a visual exploration of stories, mythic correlates of this reality; yet in another sense, none of the stories of myths is any more central or any less metaphoric than the other. Each narrative conditions the others, interwoven so as to lace each entity with intertextual resonance. What startles is not the form, per se, but Fisher’s magnificent handling of subtle ironies, rather than caricatured oppositions, even when addressing such seeming polarities as male genre writing and feminist poetry, or daily economic realities and cultural fantasies.

In rearranging John Ford’s My Darling Clementine, the barroom exit of the dance-hall girls can fill a screen in the wake of a hero on horseback; this reediting explains the displace feminine title of the classic western, as Fisher’s film retells its visual and verbal icons, highlighting its celebration of a newly gentle hero whose bows and dancing, who’s “Bye Ma’am” and strains of “ten thousand cattle straying” must first confront the threat, “And I’m gonna kill you too” of consummate macho ruthlessness. This visual montage echoes the weave of two writers’ voices; she, a feminist poet, whose lines are the direct address eloquence of a female view, and ironic acknowledgement, impatient with waiting, being positioned, and contained, while he is the subtly self-conscious writer for hire, the pulp novelist who sold himself to the production of westerns transcending his own skepticism of an arid boring desert by painting it full of popular tropes. Of course the questions of writing, self, audience and nation figure here, but ever so much between the lines and in the interstices of the edits, while another voice tries over the course of the passage of other phrases to describe the narrative of one image. In decidability; do we know what an image says, or what a story means: All of art history is called into question. And biography. Maybe the weave of images and stories by a master weaver, editor, filmmaker, will let us each speculate, while she speaks through an artful cultural collage in which fine and popular art enrich one another. Holly Fisher’s film is stunning.

Maureen Turim

Associate Professor of English and Film, University of Florida

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