blast from the recent past

blast from the recent past

Posted: Jul 27 | Author: | Filed under: News & Updates | Tagged: , ,

Late to this one, a pointed account of Manhole 452 by Cheryl Eddie for the San Francisco Bay Guardian on the occasion of the film’s San Francisco Independent Film Festival screening.

Eddie writes,

Just about the only thing Manhole 452 has in common with Muppetless is that it’s another standout in “Cults, Manholes, and Slide Rail Riders.” Jeanne C. Finley and John Muse’s eerie short is narrated by an unseen commuter as he nervously rides the 38 Geary downtown from the Richmond. His paranoia: exploding manholes. As the film progresses, his fears are backed up by found footage depicting actual manhole explosions. His unease become ours, as we start to realize he’s onto something real and terrifying.

Muse and Finley have been working together since 1988; for the past several years, it’s been a cross-country collaboration, since Muse teaches at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, and Finley teaches at California College of the Arts in SF. Manhole 452 originally appeared as part of a 2011 installation at Patricia Sweetow Gallery, whose Geary Street location provided early inspiration.

“My antenna was up, as was John’s, around the question of manhole covers,” Finley recalls. “We did a lot of research, and it became really evident that they blow all the time. For example, three days before our show opened, a manhole blew right in front of the gallery. So we were aware of this phenomenon — and then San Bruno happened. A horrible, horrible tragedy.”

Finley decided to count all of Geary Street’s manhole covers. “A lot of weird things have happened on Geary Street,” Finley says. (Manhole 452 specifically points out the former location of Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple.) “It’s a really interesting San Francisco street, and a pretty ugly street, too.”

Soon after, the pair wrote a script based on actual stories that they’d dug up, interwoven with a character they imagined as their narrator: a man who’d had a manhole blow under his car while he was driving down Geary, forcing him to take the bus — and to question the stability of his surroundings.

“A lot of our work deals with inexplicable, unpredictable random events and the relationship of personal will to those random events: how do you confront an event of that nature, and move through it? And as you move on, how do you take it with you?” Finley explains.

Adds Muse, “We tend to try and make free-floating anxieties explicit and real, and give them shape. In this case, it’s the street: the street is a surface, it’s a membrane, it’s porous and delicate. At any moment that membrane could be torn away, and the fragility of everything is suddenly exposed. We thought about that metaphor a lot — the surface of the street as barely protecting us from what’s underneath.”