Stacey Steers’ films are often described as “dreamscapes.” Her film-collages blend early cinema with 18th and 19th century engravings to create worlds that feel at once enigmatic and sinister.
Night Hunter (2011) [15:30 min] features Lillian Gish – archetype of white femininity in the silent cinema era – caught in a psychoanalytic fever dream set inside an isolated cabin. Gish appears trapped in domestic drudgery, sewing and cooking while looking forlornly off-frame, until one evening, she finds a giant egg in one of her bedrooms. She tends to the egg like a baby, keeping it by her rocking chair as she sews. As eggs continue to appear, she is menaced by moths, worms, and a Biblical snake.
The specter of domesticity hangs over the film. Nancy Hightower of Weird Fiction Review posits: “The acts of domesticity – sewing, cooking, birthing – take on a nightmarish quality not because they are worthless things to do, but perhaps because they have been assigned to Gish without her consent or desire.” But what does Gish desire? As I watch Night Hunter, I can’t help but wonder if the dreamscape is an externalization of the character’s repressed desire – sexuality and motherhood bursting from her subconscious and infesting her domestic space.
Animation as a medium is particularly suited to creating such dreamscapes – nightmarish or otherwise. One can animate any object or idea, choosing from a multitude of techniques, from hand-drawing and painting to stop motion to computer-generated methods. For Night Hunter, Steers chose a handmade method in collage animation. Devoting over four years to this film, she crafted approximately 4000 collages, with an average of eight collages per one-second of film. Then she photographed her collages – frame-by-frame – on an Oxberry animation stand using 35mm film, giving the image a high degree of visual quality.
The result of these four years of effort and imagination is a film that is utterly unique and immersive.
Laura Ivins loves stop motion, home movies, imperfect films, nature hikes, and Stephen Crane’s poetry. She has a PhD from Indiana University and an MFA from Boston University. In addition to watching and writing about movies, sometimes she also makes them.