Once Every Day: Film Review

This enervating avant-garde opus proves frustratingly oblique.

Famed theater director Richard Foreman returns to movie making with this typically elliptical effort.

If you’ve experienced one of Richard Foreman’s many theater productions presented by his Ontological-Hysteric Theater, you know that coherence and accessibility were completely beside the point. Now the famed avant-garde director has made his first film in over three decades, and it’s clear from the first minute of Once Every Day that he hasn’t changed his stripes for this rare cinematic excursion.

Shot over six days in a Buffalo, New York warehouse, the film—shot in grainy looking video and featuring a jarringly cacophonous sound design--features about two dozen glassy-eyed performers enacting a series of ritualistic actions under the whispered, barely audible instructions of Foreman and a crew of assistants. Their robotic movements are periodically interrupted by title cards whose meanings remain elusive.

Elusive is actually the operative word for the entire enterprise, which even at 66 minutes proves tiresome. While Foreman’s theatrical works always exerted a certain fascination due to their energetic movement and highly stylized visual and sound design, Once Every Day lacks the hypnotic flair that would provide some compensation for its elliptical, non-narrative structure.

According to the press notes, the film is positing the question of whether what we’re witnessing is life visibly remaking itself as art. Okay, if they say so. No doubt some viewers will find significant meaning in the repetitive actions being enacted. But even by experimental cinema standards this is a wan, listless affair lacking thematic resonance. It’s understandable that Foreman, after producing dozens of stage works in his long and illustrious career, would want to once again test the boundaries of cinema. But this effort seems instantly dated, a seemingly unearthed relic of avant-garde cinema that might have seemed mind-blowing back in the 1960’s but now comes across as withholding and self-indulgent.

Production Companies: Bridge Film NYC, Ontological-Hysteric Theater, The Center for the Moving Image, Department of Media Studies at SUNY Buffalo
Cast: Dana Block, Sarah Brown, Ryan Cupello, Diane Galdry, Neill Garvey, Hannah Lipkind, Abby Marianetti, Paul Martin, Amanda McDowall, Roy Rousell, Linda Stein, RJ Voltz, Paul Hern
Director-screenwriter-editor: Richard Foreman

Not rated, 66 min.