THAT OLD FEELING A dejected Sigrid faces classic crossroads.
If you think adulthood is hard, give adolescence a try.
Every bit of the unpredictable, painstakingly arranged information we’re given about the life of Sigrid Harmon, the subject of the quasi-documentary film/video art project Sigrid on Her 14th Birthday, invites us to crawl through the ever-darkening tunnels of our own anxieties and confusions, often back to their original, eerily familiar source.
Whether you choose to watch it as a film or a work of video art doesn’t matter. John Fireman’s piece makes a strong case either way. The effect is particularly true for Portlanders, who get to see several forms of filmmaking—from Fluxus to mumblecore to jarring home video—frame a raw and effortlessly interesting young person exploring their city in a way that’s rarely captured.
Fireman, a New York City transplant recently graduated from MECA’s MFA program, treats Portland with an obvious reverence and a unique, hard-won fascination. The scenes, testimonials, and found footage that compose Sigrid are threaded by shots of Portland landmarks and culture—much of it with a pretty loose weave. One favorite is when our heroine learns she’s been suspended from school for making inscrutably expressive zines. She trudges angrily down the long corridor of her school to its trophy room, where the camera cuts to ominous close-ups of the marble busts of the long-dead luminaries on display around her, plus another shot of the Portland Conservatory for dramatic similitude. Among other fresh-yet-truthful depictions of city life, we get musique concrete performer Skot Spear (a/k/a id m theft able) uncorking his avant-garde sorcery in a scene within Strange Maine, Sigrid walking aimlessly around desolate sites slated for future development, and a city statue paired with an audio clip of blistering black metal. Meanwhile not a single trope of liberal Portland fascination is to be found—no coastline, no food scene, no arts or “creative economy.” Instead, behind the adolescent ennui, the subtext of the defense of core values against encroaching corporate forces has significant resonance.
And Sigrid—who seems like a Bayside resident with the amount of footage the film spends with her there—is a thoroughly compelling subject; guileless and good and, despite moments of confusion and vulnerability, strangely comfortable. She wrestles with the injustices and measurements of rebellion of her age, but she’s never trivialized. Fireman’s edit spares her of any actorly contrivance. When the vistas of Sigrid’s line of existential questioning reach their vanishing point, Fireman employs devices to delimit them. A seemingly peripheral sequence involving a bird trapped inside someone’s home. An interlude of dirty footage of a televised performance by Yma Sumac with Sigrid’s voiceover review. And most importantly, the brilliant film’s supporting cast, including a hilarious performance by local drag artist Taffy Pulls, and Sigrid’s “imaginary” friend Aidan, a real-life human the same age, whose charming volubility brings out the film’s richest, most unconventionally poignant moments.