Whispering Pines 6,7,8 (2006)

There are few films I find to be a truly pure incarnation of my aesthetic. The 'Neon Boogers' category exists as a kind of sliding scale for the qualities I look for. Sometimes I'm a little more lenient in gauging whether or not a film is deemed a 'Neon Booger', but other times its so glaring it's like the filmmaker and I share the same brain.

Whispering Pines is a series of shorts created by and starring Shana Moulton as 'Cynthia', a woman who's on a personal journey of betterment through manufactured objects and self-exploration. There's an every-woman-ness about Cynthia. She reads the magazines, buys the products, lives her life in a constant limbo of health and beauty fads. There's a commentary at work here but before I get into that I need to discuss the cosmetic appeal of the world Shana Moulton has created for 'Cynthia'.

The character may have an emptiness inside of her, but like me, she's a tchotchke queen. The placement of objects in itself is an art. Muted pastels, house plants, marble side tables and trinkets from the Asian dollar store. The sets look like shoe-string Ettore Sottsass installation, with a dash of Leslie Hall. So while I'm fully aware that there's an anti-establishment  message, I too am seduced by Cynthia's synthetic reality.

There are five episodes before the three I'm covering here and I believe two after, but these three (and a random episode 3 on youtube) seem to be the only available ones on the net. As they came together attached in one swoop, I'm reviewing them as one film. Like a mini-anthology.

Episode 6:

While doing a puzzle of a waterfall, Cynthia realizes she's missing the final piece. Panicked, she searches the living with no avail. Feeling lost, she finds herself in a New Age store that sells waterfall statues. She buys yet another waterfall for her home in hopes that the sound of the rippling water will give her the clarity she needs to find the missing puzzle piece. Once home all of the water devices are turned on, including an electric waterfall picture. She plays a meditation tape and the sounds put her body in a state of emotional out-pour. Once enlightened she knows to look deep inside the waterfall picture for the missing puzzle piece. As she places the final piece in the center of the puzzle the camera zooms in to reveal Cynthia's own crying face in the water.

Episode 7:

While gazing upon herself in a vanity mirror, Cynthia notices some unsightly black heads. She reaches for her holographic box which contains several packets of pore strips. The camera zooms in on her black stippled nose as she performs her skin care ritual. As she patiently waits for the strip to dry she stares at her distorted image in the mirror. Suddenly a sphinx-like creature with her own face appears. It sings "Now That I'm a Woman" from the Last Unicorn. A song about the unicorn's sad transformation from a strange creature to an ordinary woman. Little pore strips fly around them like doves. The sphinx disappears and she slowly removes her pore strip to reveal an inspirational quote from 'Jonathan Livingston Seagull'.

Episode 8:

Best for last. Unsatisfied with the state of her plant arrangement, Cynthia embarks on a Crystal Light induced creative journey in sand art. She listens to Enya's 'Orinoco Flow' and re-imagines her once drab vase. She dumps colored craft store sand, pearls, plastic gems and fake flowers in a casserole of kitsch. She creates designs in sand directly on the table, embellishing them with crystals. Her whole house comes to life. Soon all of her plastic belongings are singing and dancing. One by one she adds them to the magical concoction of ornamental decor, creating a Chakra of artificial soil for her new flower arrangement. Once finished she places the vase by the couch and immediately begins to feel unfulfilled despite her new creation. After a few moments have passed, the vines from the arrangement grow into a magical ladder. She climbs it and enters a door that transports her to a lively rave set to an electronic remix of  'Orinoco Flow'. She joins the party until she realizes that she's just been poisoned by the Crystal Light and that it was all and hallucination. She vomits herself back to reality.

I have this thing for commercial meditation products. I collect new age cassettes and nature videos whenever I encounter them at thrift stores. The idea that this analog version of nature can bring you some kind of inner peace is fascinating. When I started collecting these types of things I was doing it in an ironic way. There was something "funny" about it. But I've discovered there is kind of a science to it. When I listen to or watch this stuff, I think it may actually work. Or at least I think it's working while I'm participating. Like some kind of neo-shamanic ritual of the digital age. Put on a tape and all of your problems will melt away. Cynthia is a prime target for this kind of advertising duplicity. When you look in a magazine and see lots of happy women, the idea is if you do as they do you also will be happy. It could be as little as one product that changes your whole life. Cynthia aspires to be the woman on the Biore box and to feel like she's in a Crystal Light commercial. That's the witchcraft of consumerism, the promise of the thing you desire leads to a momentary high and then an empty realization that not only does it not work but you're worse off than before. Shana Moulton has created a really likable character and Universe to satire these ideas.

As a multi-media artist, Moulton's work has been limited to mostly galleries. Still active today, you can see a few excerpts on her Vimeo. I'm not sure if a commercial release is her style, but if that were to ever happen I'd be first in line to own these brilliant pastel fever dreams.

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