Strange Attractions
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Review by Linda Dubler
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Peter Friedman presents "I talk to animals"
Southern Circuit Independent Film and Video Series
Following are Program Notes from the Southern Circuit Independent Film Series screenings of I Talk to Animals. Southern Circuit is a program of the South Carolina Arts Commission, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and local site sponsors. This article was written by Linda Dubler, the curator of film and video at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia.
Witty and understated, Peter Friedman’s I Talk to Animals hardly seems the sort of documentary once would call subversive. That’s a term we usually reserve for more overtly passionate and political films, films that unmask injustices or scandals, and perhaps sound the call for actions. But if we accept the essence of Friedman’s work, it’s not merely subversive but revolutionary, for it tests the very foundations of our experience of consciousness and our relationship with the natural world. What begins as a quasi-comedy (what else would you call the saga of Casey, the depressed, unemployed cat?), deepens into an almost religious meditation on humankind’s vanity and isolation.
Samantha Khury isan’t a specialist in myth or anthropology, and happily, Friedman doesn’t trot out a crew of academicians who are. But her remarkable bond with animals harkens back to some very primal places, and her apparent communications carry with them an array of provactive questions.
Khury’s talent is so patently eccentric that it can only strike us as funny at first. Friedman acknowledges the humor, but deflects it partially onto Samantha’s clients––Casey’s owners, one in a Snoopy T-shirt, the other in a shirt decorated with cartoon cats, describing how their kitty was in the pits because he couldn’t find a job; the sheep dog Rugby’s owner, who talks about her pet’s disapproval of a guy she was dating; and the wan, tired-looking young woman bringing in biting, scratching Tonga the cat.
You have to believe Frank though. Frank is a horse trainer for New York’s famous Belmont race Track who is handsome, soft-spoken and absolutely direct. He seems more like the Marlboro Man than someone you’d meet at a New Age seminar, and when he vouches for Khury’s abilities, you can’t help but wonder what’s going on.
Friedman shows us (as much as one can show a telepathic process), by following Samantha through her session with Tonga, by watching her interact with her own menagerie and human family and by accompanying her on several professional calls. We hear Samantha talk about her difficult childhood, during which her closest ties were with animal companions, and her first realization of her powers, when she experienced the sensation of flight while working with a wounded bird. We see the tenderness with which she handles Tootles, the featherless cockatoo, and her about the deal she’s struck with a colony of ants. When one client says that Samantha’s skills bring to mind St. Francis of Assisi, the comparison seems poetically apt.
Anyone who has ever lived with a dog or cat has experienced the behavioral quirks that in humans we call personality. But for most of us, it seems quite a leap to imaging Puff or Rover as a creature whose thoughts are complex and articulate–-who not only want to go in or out, but can analyze people and relationships. Khury’s credibility is generally enhanced by the character of her “read-outs.” If the animals she contacted were given to tabloid-style predictions, rather than admitting a passion for a shower curtain or complaining of being overworked, we could dismiss her out of hand. After watching Peter Friedman’s fine portrait that’s not so easy. She seems a genuine enigma whose talents defy scientific explanation, a mythic seer in the modern world.