From the deep archives: Mabou Mines’ HAJJ

November 10, 2013

hajj 2
Thinking about the late great Ruth Maleczech, who died September 30 at age 74, sent me back to a feature story I wrote for American Film magazine in 1983 about Hajj, the beautiful multimedia piece she made for Mabou Mines with writer-director Lee Breuer and videographer Craig Jones.

It’s funny to read today a piece about cutting-edge video technology 30 years ago. Everything that made creating Hajj cumbersome and frightfully expensive has become obsolete with digital video editing — kids can make equally sophisticated video on their laptops after school these days.

Nothing as good as this memorable performance poem, though.

The actress Maleczech sits down at a vanity table, her back to the audience. She faces a triptych of tall, ornately framed mirrors and begins to apply an elaborate makeup. When she reaches for a hairpiece, a video monitor suddenly reveals itself behind one of the mirrors and a closed-circuit camera zooms in on the hairpiece.

As she continues putting on her makeup, monitors behind the other two mirrors flicker on, picking up similarly specific images – a necklace, the smoke from her cigarette. The actress murmurs the text (picked up by a high-powered body mike) as the screen images float alongside her reflection in the mirror, and these are soon joined by another layer of imagery. Filmed sequences showing a child on the lap of an old man and a truck driving through a barren landscape are superimposed on closed-circuit images of Maleczech’s face or objects on the makeup table. As suddenly and magically as they appear, the video pictures periodically drop out altogether, leaving a woman alone at the mirror with her reflection instead of – her dreams? her memories? her soul?

You can read the whole piece online here.

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