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'Strip Mining

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In Brian Dewan's 11-minute filmstrip "A Little Girl and Boy," two orphaned siblings are thrust into unwanted adventure. They are kidnapped, chased with a gun, arrested, sent to reform school -- it's a deadpan nightmare, illustrated with neat but child-like single-frame drawings and narrated by a calming, authoritative voice. Each frame is advanced by an unseen hand at the prompting of a high-pitched bing that will resonate with anyone who went to school in the '60s or '70s and sat through similar presentations on driver safety or frog biology.

 

A certain subversion is at work: While this filmstrip's aesthetics -- like filmstrip technology itself -- suggest the era of mom-and-apple-pie, for instance, many of its villains are authority figures (a truant officer, a cop). But to understand the real subversiveness, and the even realer weirdness, of Dewan's I-Can-See filmstrips, it helps to view his others, too, as you can do at the May 29 Jefferson Presents. The polymorphously adept artwork and flights of whimsy, irony and satire suggest a mind both canny and dreamily perverse, one that knows it can breach your comfort zone without breaking a sweat.

 

In "Neighbors in the Solar System" (1995), Dewan lulls with pretty pictures and sincere voiceover, only to almost imperceptibly begin corroding his homey astronomy lesson with twisted fabrications. He explores (or exploits) bitterly punitive Old Testament imprecations in "Deuteronomy" (1997), and with the same laconic manner (and lovely drawing style) creates unnervingly nihilistic fables in "Grimm's Tales" (2000) and "The Death of the Hen" (2000).

 

The Brooklyn-based Dewan is also a musician and composer; his artwork includes the cover of David Byrne's Uh-Oh album. Later filmstrips -- including 2001's "King of Instruments," an exposé of the secretly demonic nature of the pipe organ ("this tyrant king") -- feel a bit more obvious than his earlier work; their weird power to subvert is diluted in easy sarcasm, as in the anti-consumerist screed of "Brand New Packages for Sale." To compensate, the later strips remain washed in cascades of fascinating verbal nonsense, and laugh-out-loud funny besides.

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