I have been a fan of the absurdist films of Eric Fournier since they started popping up on the internet when video sharing still required a long download of a WMV file at 640×480. It took forever, and when it was competing with your (legal) Napster and Limewire downloads, forget it. There was a certain commitment to what was being consumed. There was rarely much more than the trust of an E/N site to (poorly) curate what you were getting, and rarely would one find quality content that said something new or interesting – but when one did, one held onto it with the fervor of being part of an exclusive club of those that appreciated the content more than anyone would ever realize. Members of the cult of Shaye Saint John (while not entirely sporting the numbers and popularity behind Homestar Runner, Salad Fingers, and Strindberg and Helium) are a feverish few whose exclusive membership vibrates wonder and postmodern appreciation for Fournier’s work.
Eric’s name didn’t even appear with the work until his release of a DVD compilation in 2006, and part of the wonder was the mystery behind these little films. The Shaye Saint John films were terrifying, funny, absurdist glimpses into the character’s upside-down Lynchian cabinet. The story goes that Shaye was a supermodel that was injured in a bus accident where she was completely disfigured, amputated, and reconstructed with floppy discount-bin plastic mannequin prostheses. Her resulting life of solitude led her to communicate her experiences through miniature documentaries that featured her triggers, her little telekinetic basket-doll Kiki, and her various ill-fated trips down therapeutic treatments. The films were literally something that had never been seen before in video production, and the use of strobe effects, bizarre graphics, overlays, repetition, macabre imagery inter-spliced with hilarious slapstick antics, strange music, strange images, strange scripts, and defamiliarization and deconstruction of the natural laws and human form have been literally influenced by (and from, depending on who you ask) many of today’s great video artists such as Tim Heidecker / Eric Wereheim / Doug Lussenhop (The Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job / Tom Goes To The Mayor / Check It Out!), Jeremy Shaw, Charlie White, Frances Stark, George Kuchar, Ryan Trecartin, and many, many, many others.
At Fournier’s death in 2010 – a story that only came to the Internet in strange trickles because of Fournier’s (and his close friends’) dedication to the character’s separation from his own reality – we were devastated, looking for answers, wanting to know more, but still managing to separate the art from the artist and appreciate what was without mourning the loss of everything that was no longer coming next.
When filmmaker Larry Wessel began a Kickstarter campaign for a new, feature-length documentary on Eric Fournier and Shaye Saint John that would exist as an homage, an informative study of the work, and a biography of Fournier, I jumped at the chance to join the investment team to insist the story of this man and his work was preserved on film in a lasting and meaningful manner.
I got a DVD in the mail and held a private screening of Eric and Shaye a day before the premiere of the film. Of course, the opening day is a perfect time to review Wessel’s work and hope that many more people experience Fournier’s story.
Wessel captured the life and work of Fournier perfectly. The story is told in several parts, and his organization of the narrative seems to make a great deal of sense. It begins with the trailer, then a gorgeous theme and opening credits sequence featuring Saphir, and then cuts to MySpace email correspondence between Wessel and Fournier outlining how their relationship started. It then moved into the gestation of Shaye’s character, the building recognition of the character as a performance art piece, Fournier’s process for filming and editing his works, and interspersed throughout the film were various biographical and personal stories that ran from the time that he started making the films to his death. Frankly, what I found most beautiful were the stories of those in direct relationships with him. Original animations abound. The narrative’s pacing and overall execution make the final product’s 105 minutes fly, and the expected, inevitable conclusion to the film absolutely crushed us – until the surprise bizarre new touching Shaye surprise at the end.
The film is entirely successful from the beginning. The editing is somewhat jumpy and the pacing a little awkward in places, but that may only be an issue with audience members who are unfamiliar with Shaye. If anything, what little awkwardness exists is likely a testament to Wessel’s commitment to making Shaye’s awkwardness, camp, and shifting reality a part of his narrative – and in this sense, is almost making the picture itself an homage to Fournier’s work. Perhaps one of my favorite elements of the film are the various ways in which the narrative of those around Fournier explained their relationship, his experiences, and his larger than life personality when in character. Ultimately, it was moving to listen to the effect Fournier and Shaye had on their lives, and Wessel managed to present their stories in a manner that not only captured the essence of Fournier’s life, but also how important Fournier and Shaye were to them as people. Of course, their identifying them as separate entities is incredibly beautiful because it showed a true commitment to his art and performance.
What Wessel manages to achieve in Eric and Shaye is a biographic triumph. This is the portrait of a man whose art and vision was remarkably different than anything we’ve ever seen before, and it is in many ways a postmortem love letter to Fournier not just from Wessel but from we who appreciated and loved his work. I could think of no better homage to Fournier than what Wessel has shared with the world, and I am proud to be a part of its creation – a work that truly represents all of our appreciation.
In three words, see this film.
For more information, as always, click through the links sprinkled throughout this review, or visit the original Shaye Saint John Website http://www.shayesaintjohn.net/ or the Official Eric and Shaye Website http://www.ericandshaye.com/
Update: I learned afterward that there was a music video for Saphir’s Shaye Saint John… Check it out!