Artist Laura Parnes Brings Hybrid Rock Doc to Wex
Thursday won’t be Laura Parnes’s first visit to the Wexner Center for the Arts, and she’s excited about that.
“I had a film/video residency there, and it was wonderful. I’m very impressed,” she said.
Parnes, a New York-based artist and filmmaker, brings her “hybrid” music documentary Tour Without End to the Wex for a screening and Q&A session March 21.
The film casts real-life musicians, artists and actors as fictional band members on tour, grappling with a youth-obsessed industry and the volatile political landscape.
“The film developed pretty organically,” Parnes said. “I shot it over the course of four years, so I had set up all these different improvisations, and it truly developed with everyone in the project.”
“How do you keep going? That was actually my central question,” she continued. “This is the tour without end. These are lifers, and it’s a very youth-driven scene.”
Casting “archetypes playing archetypes” leads to some touching and dryly hilarious insights, as well as some inevitable parallels to that mother of all music mockumentaries.
“I love Spinal Tap, I bow down to Spinal Tap, but actually the younger generation doesn’t know Spinal Tap. We have to revive it!” Parnes said.
Parnes is quick to point how important humor is to her work, and how lucky she was to have such naturally funny cast members.
“Usually I would set up the situation, give the parameters, not that different from how the comedic improvisation thing would go, but a little more controlled, and forcing a kind of spontaneity by not really informing everyone of the same things that are gonna happen,” she said. “It was like the musician version of Curb Your Enthusiasm, you know? Just doing and saying all the wrong things. It’s a little like herding cats, and I love cats.”
As filming continued into 2016, though, Parnes said it became clear that an elephant needed addressing.
“It was impossible to avoid the politics of what was happening, and there were plenty of conversations that were happening in relationship to our community (in NYC), and those conversations were very different than what was happening in the country,” said Parnes.
With admitted inspiration from the 1968 film Medium Cool (which filmed during that year’s tumultuous Democratic convention), Parnes rolled cameras at the RNC in Cleveland.
“I didn’t want to show these characters living in a bubble outside of politics, because I don’t think we can. It’s impossible but it’s also dangerous,” she said. “So that’s why I felt like I needed to have the characters confront the world as it stands during the Republican convention. In the movie they’re on tour and kind of run into it.”
It results in a semi-authentic narrative with moments of truly stirring authenticity, including a fiery night-after-the-election performance from Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill, Julie Ruin).
“That was a hard night. But as a filmmaker I felt incredibly fortunate to be able to document it,” Parnes said.
Next up for Parnes is a horror film project (“It will probably be funny, too”). But in the meantime, the Wexner Center provides a welcome bridge between her art installations and the big screen.
“This in particular is maybe the most cinematic of the works that I’ve done,” she said. “I’m happy that I’m out there to talk about it. There’s other levels to it besides this film, but I’m really excited to show it at the Wexner Center. It seems like a really good context.”
Laura Parmes TOUR WITHOUT END screens Thursday, March 21 at 7p.m.