In Luis Bunuel's 1962 film Exterminating Angel, neurotic, rich guests get stuck at a fancy dinner party in a big, fancy house. They can't leave the house's conservatory for reasons that seem to be psychological, not physical. One blond woman aggressively, randomly breaks things. One man suggests they make a human sacrifice. Finally, an hour and a half into the film, they tumble out of the house to find cops inexplicably waiting for them outside.
Eugene Kotlyarenko, who made the film 0s and 1s in 2011, had been going to a lot of dinner parties. So he thought of Exterminating Angel when Mieke Marple, the co-director of the Eastside Night Gallery who's been producing artists' films under the name Night Vision, asked him to make a web series with her.
Their series, called Feast of Burden, is a loose remake of Bunuel's film — loose because Kotlyarenko hasn't actually seen Exterminating Angel in 14 years, and also because his series is more John Waters-meets-telenovela-made-by-hipsters than '60s surrealism. Feast of Burden premiered at MOCA last night and will debut on MOCA's new YouTube channel, MOCAtv, on Nov. 19.
MOCA first announced MOCAtv in January but it just launched this month. The venture, headed by MOCA's Emma Reeves, is part of YouTube's Original Channels initiative, which is designed to reach niche audiences and hopefully steal more viewers from conventional TV networks. The content currently on MOCAtv is fine — original artist and curator interviews, art videos borrowed from nonprofit sites like the video data bank or ubu web — but it's what you would expect from a museum, and not necessarily better than content on channels like Art21, which already cater to art-curious audiences. That's why Feast of Burden is exciting. It will be MOCAtv's first attempt to use YouTube to feature art that might not otherwise be seen.
Last night's premiere was a “red-carpet event,” which means a red carpet about 5 feet long and tucked in the corner to the right of the museum's door was available to people who wanted to pose. The cast and some guests did pose, but often the carpet was empty, and the whole night had a low-key, friendly vibe. Most people knew each other, and the eccentricity of the crowd — one woman wore a birdcage hat she'd built that afternoon to justify bringing her parrot — didn't feel like showmanship. It just felt like members of a niche creative crowd being themselves.
The screening, held in the Ahmanson Theater in the museum's basement, started about 20 minutes late. Reeves introduced Kotlyarenko or, rather, she said, “Let me hand it over to YouTube,” and then Kotlyarenko, who wore a tux, pirouetted onto the stage. He thanked MOCA, pronounced, “Let's have a feast,” and then went to the podium to push play on the Macbook there. “Full-screen it?” he asked.
Feast of Burden is divided into 12 fast-paced episodes, each between three and four minutes long — perfect for Internet attention spans. All characters have names inspired by cars. Jimmy Yukon, played by Kotlyarenko, dances from his desk to his bed in only his underwear in the opening scene while trying to get ahold of Kia Rio (Tsien-Tsien Zhang), his current crush. Kia doesn't pick up her phone because she's busy having a nightmare about the dinner party that will play out later in the night. The camera is ADD in Feast of Burden, which means the 3.5-ish-minute episodes cover a lot of ground. The Internet humor is among the best parts.
When the dinner party finally starts in a Silver Lake apartment, and the group becomes locked inside by forces that must be supernatural, no one gets cell service because only “Metro PCS gets reception occasionally.” No one can get on the Internet either, because the unsecure wireless network the host couple had been “borrowing” has suddenly become password-protected.
Some of the random absurdity is pretty good, too. Kia, the only character who knows the dinner party is ill-fated, runs into a man named “Big Tits” on her way to her car. “Big Tits,” who apparently really does live on Sunset Boulevard, flashes her, and his breasts, pixelated so you can't see the nipples, confuse her. Her delayed reaction to “Big Tits” is part of what keeps her from saving her friends, and the feast ends very badly.
Nothing about Feast of Burden is that profound, but the film feels edgy because it dabbles in these disparate styles. You don't doubt that Kotlyarenko and Marple, in casting and crafting the film, had in the back of their minds work by L.A. auteur Cassavetes, frenetic video artist Ryan Trecartin and, probably, shows like the kind on ABC Family, with their sappily sincere, too-complicated plot lines.
“Movies now, they're just so boring and so safe,” Kotlyarenko said when he and Marple took a few quick questions after the screening. “And I just want to make extreme things.”