The Odyssey is the epic that's launched a thousand adaptations. Now comes Andrea Lawlor, creator of Pocket Myths, a series of ’zines based on mythology (she’s tackled Orpheus, Persephone, and Cupid and Psyche so far). Lawlor and her partner, filmmaker Bernadine Mellis, are collaborating on the fourth issue, a 128-page ’zine and accompanying DVD of 24 short films by women, queer, and trans artists, each interpreting a single book in the epic.
Mellis got to pick the myth. A story about the aftermath of war appealed to her, as did the Odyssey’s preoccupation with masculine themes. “It’s very much a story of masculinity and fatherhood and violence and war,” she says over the phone from Philadelphia. “In my community, where there’s a lot of queer and transgender people, masculinity is something people are thinking a lot about.”
The film doesn’t bludgeon you with gender issues, though. The narrative stays faithful to the trajectory of the tale, and in that way it’s a traditional retelling. But the individual chapters vary wildly in format — from abstract flashes of light and sound to silent-movie drag-queen drama to characters made of toilet-paper rolls. “I love narrative. I love straight-up fiction,” Mellis says. “I also have experience with more experimental work and have a deep appreciation for the power of that.” The success of the film comes from telling the story so that “you’re still spinning a yarn and doing it in this way that is genuinely an experiment.”
The ’zine portion of Lawlor and Mellis’s project includes poetry, prose, drawings, photographs, and a mini-play, all based on characters from the Odyssey. For example, Emily Abendroth writes of Charybdis, the sea-monster mouth of a whirlpool: “Charybdis is a voluminous nexus, an immense federation of interlocked passageworks. She is frequently cresting and just as often awhirl.” Dori Midnight’s drawing of Hermes pictures him with the title “Guide to the Underworld, God of thieves, travelers, and masturbation.” He’s naked, except for a piece of cloth draped over his shoulder and around his waist; it’s gauzy enough to reveal a thick erection.
“It’s got texture,” Mellis says of the project. “It’s uneven. You might hate one chapter, but just wait five minutes.”
The Odyssey screens as part of Truth Serum’s new CineMental film series, which showcases queer film and media, at the Brattle Theater on May 16 at 8 pm. Tickets are $10. For more information visit pocketmyths.com or truthserum.org.