Broadway has always embodied a certain aspect of the city’s spirit, be that a celebration of its famous country music atmosphere, a delirious fever dream of tourist traps, or something in between.
Utilizing an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Tennessee Arts Commission, local filmmaker John Warren has made Broadway the subject of his latest short film, Honky Tonky. The piece, completed last year using a 16-millimeter Bolex camera, is a woozy compilation of the street lights and neon signs, offering a sensational, overwhelming, and sometimes tense take on a night spent exploring the strip. It will premiere at the Nashville Film Festival this month.
“As the film traces the geography of the landscape, the overlapping imagery reveals embedded poetry and history,” explained Warren. “I am interested in how layers of film emulsion can reference layers of history, layers of meaning, and layers of perception.”
It was filmed using a technique that Warren terms “polytonal vision,” utilizing in-camera double exposures to overlap images. The short’s surreal qualities were inspired by Warren’s experiences in high school, skateboarding along the then- empty parking lots and shuttered storefronts that would morph into the tourist-friendly, if illusory, Broadway of today.
“My artistic approach is informed by a mix of memory, dreams, emotions, revelation, and poetry,” Warren said. “Each piece is a record of discovery, connecting my emotional state with the inner life of my subject. All of my projects are concerned with a spirit of inquiry into the deep nature of film, of substance, of luminosity, and shadow.”
Warren moved away from Nashville to study film in Boston and Los Angeles. He moved back in 2013 and started teaching film classes at Vanderbilt University.
Honky Tonky was the first film Warren completed through the $5,000 fellowship, which he received last summer. He is also working on several other projects that confront Nashville as a character, including a film installation, Future Tense, that focuses on the plethora of construction cranes downtown.
Warren’s 2011 film Notturno is on display in the Pattern Recognition: Art and Music Videos in Middle Tennessee exhibit at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, which runs until October 8. During Frist First Friday on July 28, Warren will screen some of his 16 mm films and answer questions. For more information, visit www.fristcenter.org.