2nd Year Reviews: Keith Richner by Ron Horsley

Keith Richner’s work in digital animation and filmmaking has at times gone from terse short-cut surrealism almost worthy of a Fellini or early Scorsese short, and up to the cinematography not unfamiliar to fans of director Ridley Scott or the conceptual art of Alejandro Jodorowsky.

With his latest piece, tentatively titled “The Bridge,” a work that uses many of the popular visual trappings of science fiction and the dystopic, Keith is ambitiously trying to enwrap a surreal narrative in deceptively familiar elements.

From the script and segments of the animatic so far produced, the strongest influential feeling I get from “The Bridge” is of a kind of Kafkaesque atmosphere. The feelings of persecution, yearning, danger and captivity are all echoes of stories of Kafka’s such as “The Trial” and “The Castle.” In particular, Keith’s gas-masked protagonist is reminiscent of Kafka’s character ‘K,’ who seeks validation in his existence with no resolute conclusion from the unseen authorities of his fate.

There are some problematic areas of the script as presented, in which I consider that there appear to still be forms of authority (or at least oppression) via the soldiers of unspecified nations or city-states that cause the primary source of conflicts for the protagonist. With such figures, the idea of an abandoned or seemingly-endless decrepit structure such as the Bridge becomes difficult to consider as totally abandoned to its failings or that anyone would still see it as a viable structure to pursue its length as opposed to anyone or everyone pretty much becoming just the ‘villager/colonist’ figures as camp along it at varying points.

One intriguing persistent theme that emerges in Keith’s work is the idea of ‘ultimate conflicts’ that cause watershed changes in the whole of a civilization rather than in just temporary or pocketed domains of it. The idea of another ‘world war’ effecting great masses that are forced into painful, murderous exodus under the onus of those same jackboot forces is a pervasive one that sadly is revisited in history almost as often as the art that has depicted it. In some ways, this specific relocation and attempts to escape to a better chance of survival, as shown in the flashbacks of the script, suggest the Armenian genocide enacted by the Ottoman Empire in 1915, or the recent Syrian refugee dilemma on the global stage.

The Bridge itself is a structure that presents some challenges in being perceived as endless or as near as need be within the telling of the story. A Bridge is by default a structure that bridges between realities or geographic places (the term “pontiff” for the Catholic Church’s Pope is in fact the literal Latin of ‘bridge,’ and sometimes the more formal title, ‘pontifex,’ is ‘bridge-builder,’ implying the Pope is the bridge between mankind and God). A Bridge that goes on without any visible end becomes in essence self-negating. It is now a road that may or may not happen to reach a conclusion and thus re-validate itself as a bridge between destinations. In fact, with a road comes an assumption of stability that seems counter to the overall story of travel, pursuit of a goal, a possibly never-ending stretch of longing and potential surrender for the protagonist to the futility of his surroundings.

In character design, it is important to note that while Keith’s piece is borrowing many recognized science fiction and dystopian fiction elements, it is striving to not entirely ape these things as an easy shortcut to viewer comprehension or engagement. Every element is carefully considered for its necessity in the world of the tale. These things are not arbitrarily placed for the sake of visual variety, but are in fact all integral to the characters and their part in the overall dynamic.

The need for clean and breathable-pressurized oxygen is itself an interesting take on the classic “constant need” aspect of survivalist fiction. Whereas it is easy to see a need for water, food, shelter, weaponry…it is rare for viewers to have to so carefully think of the very air they are breathing as a sacred and limited commodity for the characters they are viewing. Similar use of this for effective ongoing tension is replete in science fiction stories set in the vacuum of space, but this is more akin to the real exploits of expeditions to the summit of Mount Everest, or in the recently popular novel-turned-film, “The Martian.” Terrestrial exploits that nevertheless have very grave limitations on immediately-available needs for life present a sense of time and urgency that help keep this from being simply an “ambling tale,” a “walkin’ along story” presented as a vignette of an otherwise placid narrative.

The ending of the story, presented as a seemingly fatalistic end of self-destruction, nevertheless avoids an outright fatalist or nihilist tone. The protagonist’s decision and action are not spontaneous. They seem more measured and foreshadowed than any break into madness or thoughtless self-destruction. Perhaps the reason I see this as a hopeful rather than hopeless act is because of the protagonist’s taking of the young child with him into his leap. It goes from being a futile leap of desperate surrender to perhaps a leap of nearly-confirmed faith. As if to suggest that no life, however fragile or miserable in these circumstances, would be seen as so expendable by this protagonist as to waste in some form of symbolic suicide-murder gesture.

Ultimately I am intrigued to see the finished work when Keith has completed it. His 3D and green screen planning looks thorough and well-detailed, and his story writing presents a classic viewpoint in a nevertheless fresh angle of tale-telling.

To learn more about Keith’s work and watch videos of his process please visit http://krichner0908.tumblr.com/

As part of the second-year graduates’ Thesis Projects I course, candidates were each assigned two of their cohort to review. As students begin writing their thesis papers and constructing artist statements, this review process proves to be beneficial twofold. Students not only exercise their written critique skills, but are able to read about their own project from other voices. Over the next few weeks we’ll be posting these reviews, so be sure to visit regularly for insights and photos of the second years’ progress!

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