BROCK ENRIGHT’S JODY LEE LIPES By Alicia Van Couvering
When Jody Lee Lipes set out to follow his friend Brock Enright prepare a solo art show for the prestigious Perry Rubenstein gallery, he knew he wasn’t going to change anyone’s opinion about contemporary art. If you hate the art world, you might still hate it after watching Enright’s strenuous, stressful and altogether bizarre chronicle of several months putting a solo show together. But you have probably never seen art-making this up close; probably never witnessed the day-to-day negotiations for resources and time between an artist and gallery; probably never seen someone try to justify their art to their girlfriend’s brother while naked and covered in white paint. Shooting verite-style with seemingly limitless access to his subjects, Lipes has created a document of how it works and what it means to be a working artist today.
Enright came to the attention of mainstream media in 2002 when he created a “designer kidnapping” service called Videogames Adventure Services, which staged false abductions on a contractual basis. Enright woud stay in his kidnapper character for days on end, relentlessly upping the ante of violence and fear for his captives. In Lipes’ film, shot in 2007, Enright finds out he has been given a gallery show, and moves with his girlfriend Kirsten Deirup to her family’s remote California cabin to make the work required for it. He promptly runs out of his gallery’s money and the Deirup Family’s goodwill. By day, he fabricates props and costumes for his piece, The Blackgoat; each night, he works himself into the state of animalistic frenzy, pulling everyone around him into the insane vortex of performance.
Lipes is an NYU graduate and cinematographer by trade, who shot the Cannes-entry Afterschool by Antonio Campos (nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature and Gotham Award for Breakthrough Director and Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You), as well as Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell, a documentary by Matt Wolf, one of this magazine’s 2008 25 New Faces. Brock Enright: The Good Times Will Never Be The Same is premiering this year at SXSW.
FILMMAKER: So how did you meet Brock Enright?
LIPES: There are two answers to that question. One is that when I was in high school in Pennsylvania, I went out with this girl, and when we broke up she started dating Brock. The better answer is that I shot some of his artwork, art films, and some of his Videogames Adventure Services projects – I started working for him as a d.p., in 2002, and we became friends.
FILMMAKER: How did you decide to make your own film about him?
LIPES: When he got this show, he asked me to shoot a feature length piece called Black Goat, which is one of the things you see him making in my film. I turned him down and decided to make my own film about the process of preparing for this show.
FILMMAKER: How did Brock and Kirsten react to your plan?
LIPES: Well, Brock likes challenges in any way, shape or form. He likes things that make him uncomfortable; he likes obstacles. So I think he was just excited about how awkward it would be for him, having his whole thing exposed – I think he thought that was a good obstacle. Kirsten was more worried about her family, that they would see into Brock’s work and not be able to accept it or understand how she could choose to be with him.
FILMMAKER: Wouldn’t that be a validating force? Like, my crazy artist’s boyfriend is not a fraud, because someone is making a film about him.
LIPES: Maybe, but I think when documentaries are being shot, most people don’t think they’re going to go anywhere. [laughs]
FILMMAKER: How did being a d.p. affect your approach to directing?
LIPES: Shooting taught me a lot, but I’ve never shot a long-form verite film before, even for somebody else. So this was a new experience for me. The fact that a lot of it is locked off – part of the reason I did that is because the usual documentation of Brock’s work is so messy and dirty; I wanted to provide a little bit of aesthetic help for the uninitiated. Also, shooting on a tripod makes me a lot more patient. If I’m holding the camera, I’m gonna start adding shots and following people, but putting it on sticks allowed me to just relax and concentrate. I can just sit there and listen and watch, and then there will be a moment where I’m like [snaps fingers], that’s what this scene is about. And then I can add coverage which will help the scene in that moment; I’ll get a reaction shot or an insert of whatever. I’ll start thinking about editing and the film in a larger sense.
FILMMAKER: Some of my favorite scenes are between Kirsten’s brother, Keith, who is completely baffled and offended by the insanity going on in his backyard, and Brock, who continually tries to win Keith over (sometimes while naked and covered in white paint.) How did you personally relate to her family?
LIPES: I think Keith really balanced things out, because he provides that voice of, “this is ridiculous.” At the same time I found myself getting a little frustrated with Keith, and I think that informs how I was trying to tell the story and how I shot him. At one point [in editing] I was concerned that I had painted this evil portrait of this guy, but people don’t respond that way. Most people feel he’s totally justified.
FILMMAKER: Well, their interaction makes a larger point about what’s going on – Keith is 100% removed from the world where Brock’s work has value, and his reactions to what Brock is actually doing (which includes building a stage and filming himself all night long, defecating on camera, painting Kristen up as a mouse, speaking in funny voices…) reflect that.
LIPES: What made Brock’s relationship with Keith really interesting to me was that Keith did ultimately get involved, entirely on his own accord. Ultimately Keith gets up there on stage with Brock, and it says a lot about how far Keith came — from being entirely skeptical [about Brock’s work] to becoming involved in it.
FILMMAKER: Speaking of getting involved in the work, can you talk about the episode with Nicelle, Brock’s gallerist?
LIPES: Nicelle comes up to Mendocino from New York for a studio visit. Before she comes it’s very clear that Brock feels like he hasn’t gotten far enough, that he’s really concerned about how she’ll react. So when she gets there I think he’s overcompensating a little, trying to convince her that all this amazing stuff is happening, and it’s a little uncomfortable. Eventually people have some drinks and the night gets a little out of control. Nicelle eventually gets involved in some sort of performance, and then tries to leave, and Brock restrains her, physically prevents her from leaving, because… he… I don’t know… it really goes out of the realm of logic. I can’t really say what he was trying to do.
FILMMAKER: Was he restraining her as part of the artwork?
LIPES: I mean the Videogames Adventure Services kidnappings were a business. There were contracts and lawyers. You could draw some parallels to that and say, this is how he made art in the past and he’s falling back into it, but I don’t think that was conscious. It’s really difficult to deal with Brock when he’s being that way because he wants it to be difficult for you and he wants to push you and see how committed you are to him. As Nicelle says, he is testing her. In light of those circumstances I think she did a pretty good job of staying cool.
FILMMAKER: Do you think she wanted to stay, that she was complicit in this?
LIPES: I think the fact that it happened to her makes her closer to Brock and makes her more able to communicate his whole aesthetic. It gives her some sort of credibility with him., and his potential collectors.
FILMMAKER: When she’s trapped in that room with him and trying to convince him to free her, you really understand that she is also thinking on his higher-plane, artistic level. You realize how seriously she takes his work.
LIPES: I think it shows that she really, really supports him, which she did. If she didn’t really support him, that scene would have ended in a much worse way and their relationship would have ended, which it hasn’t; he’s now on her roster at her new space [the Nicelle Beauchene Gallery.]
FILMMAKER: What was the editing process like, in terms of shaping the story? What changes did you make based on people’s feedback?
LIPES: What changed the most from people’s feedback was informational. People needed the set-up to be clarified, that they’re going from A to B and he’s getting ready for this show, and who was who, and that Nicelle is going to come visit. Lance [Edmands, the editor] and I thought that was clear, but it turned out that it wasn’t. I was cutting it for about a year before giving it to Lance, and then we did another six or seven passes together. He helped me understand what the core of the story was and shape what the film was about more than anyone. Same thing with my producer Kyle Martin, who was very creatively involved and helped me understand what people would take away from it. You shoot something by yourself in the middle of the woods with no one you know, then you spend a year cutting it on your laptop in your room – it’s so hard to understand what it is. Kyle opened my eyes to how important Kirsten was and that the love story is what engages people who have no interest in the art world, which is most people.
FILMMAKER: The ending is very open-ended – you choose not to focus on anyone’s reaction to the show. How do people react to it?
LIPES: I’m not gonna change anybody’s ideas or feelings about contemporary art. If I’m subverting something with the ending, it’s only to say that the outcome of this particular show and event, the result of this huge opportunity, was really less important than the process of putting it together and how it affected [Brock’s] relationships. I always felt like, unless he became a huge art star, or the gallery shut down because of the exorbitant expense of his project, that the show itself wasn’t really important. What is important is that he’s still making work and his family is still together, two things I think he really risks in the process of putting this show together.
FILMMAKER: And also how can you represent art world success visually, in a verite film – magazine capsule reviews? Bank account statements?
LIPES: Exactly. Brock is somebody who really struggles to put his entire life into his work. Whether you like it or not, he gives it his all all the time. So, it’s a story of somebody doing that and putting it all on the line — yet in reality, after he goes through all of this, he’s still basically in the same place he was before in terms of his career. I feel that his success or failure can’t be judged through the lens of his career in this story because to me Brock’s true achievement was learning to balance his creative life and his relationships with the people he loves.