I was recently asked to provide an essay to accompany the first screening of the new film by artist/filmaker Peter Sant. The film, I Yam What I Yam…L’Invenzione is a complex interweaving of action and characters from an earlier film (Emidio Greco’s 1974, L’Invenzione de Morel), relocated onto the set of another – Robert Altman’s 1980 Disney outing with Robin Williams and Shelley Duval, Popeye. Greco’s film (an adaptation of Adolfo Bioy Casares‘ novel, La invención de Morel (available in English as The Invention of Morel)) was shot on a location in the north-west of the island of Malta. Popeye was also shot on pretty much the same location a few years later. Although Greco’s set has disappeared, Altman’s is still there – having been converted into the ‘Popeye Village’ theme-park.
Sant’s film imagines the central character of the original (who ends up trapped in a loop of time created by the eponymous ‘invention’) looping back to a the Popeye set intead of the original, and in 2012 rather than 1980. The result is a dense overlaying of cinematic and literary references in which Malta itself – the ‘real’ place – is almost completely obscured. Sant is on one level alluding the fact that Malta has become in recent years a regular ‘offshore location’ for Hollywood. Whenever a director needs a suitably dusty and rocky environment with good light and predictable weather, but which is not in some part of the world hostile to the west, they head for Malta. But much more than that, Sant’s film also addresse the implications of Malta’s location (physically and historically) at a strategic point in the Mediterranean between north and south, west and east. Malta has long been a place used by others as a stepping off point for imperialist forays into Africa and the Middle East. During the Second World War it played a pivotal role in the battle for the Mediterranean, being besieged and bombed for two years by Nazi and Italian forces seeking to break allied control of the seas around North Africa. More recently, Malta has become a different kind of frontline, as one of the primary destinations for those fleeing conflict and hardship in African and elsewhere and trying to get into the European Union.
Although Malta is clearly present throughout Sant’s film (he himself is part of the Maltese diaspora), the island is rarely alluded to directly – it is buried under the traces of all the other anonymous appearances it has made in cinema and elsewhere. The spatiality of Malta is thus presented as a contingent and shifting phenomenon, caught somewhere between its physical, strategic and climactic situation and its convenience as a conceptual ‘philosophers island’ onto which all sorts of other stuff can be projected.
The text of my essay can be found here: Traces. The link above leads to a two minute trailer for Sant’s film. To get access to, or request to screen, the full version, please contact Peter directly through his website.
The first screening will be in Valletta, Malta on October 5th, 2012. Details on Peter Sant’s website.