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Review: Ohio State professor puts audience through unforgettable experience at film showing

Roger Beebe gives a talk at the Wexner Center Oct. 8. Credit: Sarah Mikati / Lantern Mikati

Roger Beebe gives a talk at the Wexner Center Oct. 8.
Credit: Sarah Mikati / Lantern Mikati

They told me experimental film isn’t necessarily about what specific message the filmmaker is trying to relay. They told me it’s just about the experience I have while watching.

Roger Beebe, experimental filmmaker and an associate professor in the Department of Art since January, was welcomed Wednesday night as a relatively new faculty member of Ohio State with a screening of his work at the Wexner Center for the Arts.

Dozens of people came to support Beebe and his work, from students, to colleagues, to community members with a passion for art — and an admiration for Beebe himself.

It is evident that Beebe is a beloved addition to OSU — People swarmed around him before and after the show, eager to meet and discuss with the man that was able to compel them with his work.

Beebe came to the show dressed in simple jeans and a T-shirt, leaving the spotlight on his work rather than himself. The dark, curly-haired professor and artist greeted everyone with a warm smile and crinkled eyes behind his dark-framed glasses.

He seems to be a genuine, humble artist that is truly passionate about his work, and about teaching others to build the same passion.

It wasn’t until graduate school, while he was working toward his Ph.D. in literature, that Beebe discovered filmmaking. After completing a film assignment for one of his classes, the then-graduate student continued the hobby he enjoyed, and ended up creating dozens of films by the time he graduated.

Beebe’s work has been shown all over the world, from Antarctica at the McMurdo Station to Times Square on the CBS Jumbotron.

“People offer me these weird things and I just always say yes,” said Beebe on the vast exposure of his art. “People have seen my films, and an opportunity comes. And again, it’s just saying yes.”

Already in a Ph.D. program at Duke University, Beebe decided to stay in academia while keeping his passion on the side, pure and free of the pressure that comes with creating films for money.

He gave filmmaking a trial run as his sole career, and quickly realized it would not be sustainable for his living needs.

“Which is kind of one of the nice things about experimental film,” Beebe said. “You’re not going to be corrupted by money.”

After 13 years of teaching at University of Florida, Beebe was ready for a change of scenery and grabbed the opportunity to work at OSU.

“I wanted to be in a bigger city, and (Columbus) is a lot closer to the rest of civilization than Florida is,” Beebe said.

Beebe also enjoys the Wexner Center, which he said is a great resource — and that showed throughout the course of his film.

Experimental is truly the best word to describe Beebe’s work. From the imagery, to the cultural references, to the background music, Beebe touches upon every element of humanity while extracting each thought and feeling inside of you.

The first half of the show took place in the film theater in the Wexner Center, composed of a sequence of short films that addressed social issues such as racism and sexuality, as well as the emotional aspects of being human.

Beebe highlighted the history of race in America with facts and a touch of humor, displaying the actor Ed O’Neill as a famous Irish-American before switching to Shaquille O’Neal.

It was a light-hearted way to stress to the audience the “one-drop rule”: that it only takes one drop of “black” blood to make someone black, and a lot of white blood to make someone white — a highlight of the historical construction of race.

His award-winning film “Historia Calamitatum” touched upon crying, whether for joy or sadness. Beebe opened up to the audience by exposing his “crying diary,” in which he documented everything that made him cry — from sports, to sappy reality shows, to the news.

Beebe’s message? We need to cry, because it feels good. Even if you are a man, you should cry.

After almost an hour, the showing switched from video to film, and the audience was directed to the Performance Space in the Wexner Center. Beebe used four film reels to project and to manipulate images on the screen throughout the course of the show — sometimes projections would overlap, other times grow and shrink.

The second half of the show was hypnotizing. I was compelled by the music and imagery, and all the mind tricks that came with it.

From being told by Satan to not leave and to trust him, to watching a woman peel a carrot with one hand, to becoming absolutely mesmerized by the overlapping footage of the “A” directory in the phonebook (so many company names start with an A!), “experience” is an understatement for the effect of Beebe’s films.

The show ended with his film “Last Light of a Dying Star,” which was the epitome of hypnotizing. Beebe pulled out all the old tricks, manipulating images, for instance, by poking holes in the film. He displayed planets, children’s cartoons and mere blotches of different color — and throughout it all, it was impossible to look away.

If there is one thing Beebe succeeded in doing, it was putting his audience through an unforgettable experience. His imagery, dialogue and music all pulled at different heartstrings, triggering a series of infinite thoughts.

Beebe understands his audience, and he has mastered the art of understanding humanity.

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