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Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the truth ... the whole truth of the extraordinary life...
With this bold announcement T.J. Wilcox's first film, The Escape (of Marie-Antoinette) (1996), begins. It subtitles an ambiguous opening shot of a military ceremony, replete with foot soldiers, guards on horseback, an elaborate procession and horse-drawn carriage. The exact nature of the ceremony is hard to determine. It moves in jagged slow motion, the images have a ghostly bluish cast and are blurred by slight reflections and distortion. The footage was shot in close-up on Super-8 directly from a television monitor, so these images are second-hand, at least. But they set the scene in more ways than one, presenting an atmosphere of pomp and ceremony fit to describe this 'extraordinary life', while displaying the artist's crude, though evocative, means of production. The contrast between the grand proclamations of the narrator and the paucity of their illustration immediately draws attention to the images' 'borrowed' status, casting doubt on their ability to demonstrate 'the truth'. This approach is fundamental to Wilcox's technique as a storyteller. Fact and fiction, not to mention fantasy, are bound up in an elaborate role-play where the character of each is distorted and exchanged, knitting a fine but dense web in which the audience is invited to suspend its disbelief. The very title of the film encapsulates this willed contradiction, as Marie-Antoinette did not, of course, escape; she was captured and her extraordinary life brought to a violent and untimely end.
The Escape (of Marie Antoinette) presents a composite portrait, both in terms of source material and in the literal terms of the image itself, composed of layered and overlapping footage. It
Walter Benjamin, 'The Storyteller. Reflections on the Works of Nicolai Leskov', Illuminations, New York: Schocken Books, 1968, p.93↑
Karen Kilimnik, Paintings, Zürich: Patrick Frey, 2001↑
T.J. Wilcox in an email to the author, July 2005↑
Susan Sontag, 'Notes on "Camp"', Against Interpretation, London: Vintage, 2001, p.286↑
W. Benjamin, 'Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century', in Reflections, New York: Schocken Books, 1986, p.157↑
W. Benjamin, 'The Storyteller', op. cit., p.94↑