Credit: FIDMarseille
by Jesse Catherine Webber Featured Film

Leisure, Utopic — Beatrice Gibson [FIDMarseille ’24 Review]

July 10, 2024

Beatrice Gibson’s short film Leisure, Utopic is the first in a series of “loose adaptations” of Bernadette Mayer’s book-length poem, Utopia. The film features the reading of a heavily edited version of the fourth chapter of Mayer’s book, “The Arrangement: of Houses & Buildings, Birth, Death, Money, Schools, Dentists, Birth Control, Work, Air, Remedies, and so on…” with alterations ranging from references to social media substantially postdating Mayer’s 1984 book to minor differences in phrasing. This form of adaptation is entirely in keeping with Mayer’s copyright, which states that “[all] rights remain unreserved and free including the right of reproduction in whole or part or in any form or way that seems pleasing or useful to you.” Mayer herself borrows liberally; the chapter’s footnotes contain work attributed to Anne Waldman, Joe Brainard, and Ann Rower, though none are adapted by Gibson. A profession of “looseness” thus oxymoronically tightens the relationship between Gibson’s film and Mayer’s book.

Though the film’s audio and image are never in sync, in its first half they do seem to depict the same profilmic event. Gibson guides a child, uncredited (as is Gibson’s performance), in a reading of some version of Mayer’s text, emphasizing the elementary process of reading and further mediating the text. Then, for just a moment, the image literally portrays the poem, as the line “there is enough food” coincides with the clearing of plentiful dishes from a picnic table. The reading of the poem continues, and the performers on screen are still a woman and a child, but now neither’s face appears, the woman’s out of frame and the child’s beneath a large mask. The image again diverges from the sound/text as the film’s closing shots take the mask as its central subject, shadows obscuring the face presumably behind its eyeholes. The penultimate line of both Mayer’s chapter and the film’s edited text is the same — “there are the histories of all the individuals in the world” — but Mayer’s conclusion, “everyone contributes to this part of the [book,]” gives way to “even me.” Whether this inserted first person is taken to be its literal narrator or Gibson herself, “even me” seems more relevant to the line it replaces than the one it follows.

In Utopia, this chapter follows an account of Grace Murphy, to whom the book is dedicated, having arrived at Mayer’s apartment from the future, Mayer eventually exclaiming “[what] did you find out!” This description’s solutions to the problems raised by healthcare, the carceral system, and capitalism are self-consciously haphazard, “[a] rapid shot at all of this, inviting the readers’ elaborations.” Gibson’s adaptation functions then as a response to the invitation of her source material, Mayer’s artistic generosity allowing her a posthumous role proximate to collaboration.

Published as part of FIDMarseille 2024 — Dispatch 3.