A eulogy to both her mom’s now-defunct poster printing business and to a material world endangered by the rise of a virtual one, experimental animator Jodie Mack’s newest film, Dusty Stacks of Mom: The Poster Project, is a rock opera set to a reconfigured version of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. Filmed over a period of three years, Mack’s stop-motion animation laments the decline of her mom’s more than two decade–old mail-order company. During one of the film’s opening sequences, boxes and tubes of unclaimed posters found in Mom’s shop open and unfurl, revealing posters that range from classic (Scarface! Dali’s melting clocks!) to laughably dated (’90s glamour shots of Catherine Zeta-Jones). As this segment reaches its climax, all of these images are gradually shredded into oblivion.
“If you look at my films, there are parts that have these narrative or documentary threads and parts that are just pure abstraction,” says Mack, who also teaches animation at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. In Dusty Stacks of Mom, those threads are brought together by the film’s musical narrator, an unseen singer who dissects the factory’s operations to the tune of several of Dark Side’s hits, describing the changing tastes of the vanishing customer base. “It was really scary,” Mack says of her mother’s forced career change. “She was an entrepreneur and didn’t go to college, lost her business, and felt unhirable, in a way.” Mack’s actual mother appears in the film, miming some of the daily tasks she used to perform in the factory—when she’s not rocking out on an animated, cardboard drum kit, that is.
While Dusty Stacks of Mom recounts the tale of a changed life and a changing industry, the film often breaks from this story to revel in the kitschy beauty of these abandoned posters. “One of the reasons I love the musical form so much,” says Mack, who cites the films of Busby Berkeley and Grease 2 as particular favourites, “is that it leaves this space for spectacle.” The movie frequently moves away from its sole human character, focusing instead on posters that are rapidly cut, pasted, slashed, and reassembled. The effect is almost as though these posters, from Che portraits to Klimt prints, are dancers in a grand song-and-dance spectacular (sans jazz hands).
The Dark Side of the Moon is rooted in an infamous tradition—one of hazy trips to the Cineforum to see Floyd’s psychedelic stylings played alongside The Wizard of Oz. Mack, who honed her singing chops through Hall & Oates–fuelled karaoke outings, will be performing the soundtrack live for the Toronto premiere. She’s well aware of the album’s cinematic associations. Much like the Oz/Dark Side mash-up, Dusty Stacks of Mom plays on the way music and images interact. But Mack’s choice to use Dark Side, like most of the formal elements in Dusty Stacks of Mom, is as informed by the personal as it is by the theoretical. “When my parents lived in England, they were printers and did tour merchandise. They printed all the merch for the Berlin tour of The Wall,” says Mack. “There was this big Pink Floyd connection with their printing business, and it sort of made sense that [Floyd paraphernalia was] one of their best sellers when my parents came over here and started the new business.”
As the film’s narrator sings, Dusty Stacks is not just Mom’s story, but the story of a Hollywood-centred livelihood forever changed by large shifts in technology. While it mourns the demise of poster culture and the evolving nature of mass-produced, commercial image-making, Mack addresses this sad reality in a way that also celebrates handmade images. “I definitely jump out of that instinct of animating what’s around. I sort of let the materials guide the message in my work a lot of the time,” says Mack, who meticulously assembles her films frame by frame. “I had this warehouse with posters and I set out to execute as many ideas as I had in the time I was shooting.”
Though it is a celebration of fading analog filmmaking and printmaking practices, Dusty Stacks of Mom will be projected digitally for its Images run. “It feels in line with the content of the film in many ways that the material is losing out to the virtual,” Mack says. Dusty Stacks of Mom is a movie about a woman whose life is remoulded by forces beyond her control, told through animated materials that have also been quite literally remoulded and reconfigured. Mack’s 16-mm short forces you to feel how that particular life and those posters have been altered.
Dusty Stacks of Mom: The Poster Project screens as part of the Images Festival on April 19 at Cinecycle. 129 Spadina Ave., 416-971-4273, imagesfestival.com.