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Tattoo redux

John Commorato’s Art Attack project marks 10th anniversary with a special screening

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2015-05-18


A little over 10 years ago, John Commorato Jr. heard a bizarre story from a fellow patron at the Brass Rail one night. It was an ugly story, a grim story, and it struck a strong creative spark in Commorato. When he got home that night, he started writing it down, letting his imagination lend some shape and context to the story he had heard…

Months later, and with the help of cinematographer John Hartman and a handful actors, musicians, and other collaborators, the story became the 17-minute film _ _ _ _ _ _: Prelude to a Bad Tattoo. It made its public debut at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art in August 2005, and the installation was included as part of the museum’s permanent collection.

To mark the 10th anniversary of the film, there will be a free screening of Prelude… on Saturday, June 6 at 7 pm, at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art.

When Prelude… came out, Commorato was already known as a champion of Fort Wayne’s “underground” arts, with a few Art Attack shows and other projects to his credit. This was a few years before he and a business partner bought the Brass Rail — the place where he first heard the story that inspired Prelude… — and launched the bar’s transformation into a music venue.

Some of the film was shot in the Brass Rail, and Commorato says there’s a bit of a “time capsule” feel to parts of it. “People ask me sometimes, ‘Did the Rail used to have stuffed animal heads on the wall and some pretty rough people hung out there?’” he explains. “You can see that in the film. In fact, in some of the shots that are recognizably Fort Wayne, it’s pretty remarkable to see how much has changed in 10 years.”

But it’s the value of Prelude… as a work of art that merits re-visiting 10 years after it was made. “We’ve done larger movies with bigger budgets and soundtracks from up-and-coming indie acts, but when I look at Prelude… I pretty much like it for the way it is,” Commorato says. “Not because I think it’s so great, but I just love that this thing that was story-driven, made on no budget… We got together with some people just told the story.”

Part of what makes Prelude… so interesting is its striking visual style. Using stills, and with a soundtrack by Graves of the Endless Fall, Prelude… almost has the feel of an old slideshow or a flip-book set to music. It evokes sort of a hazy, unreal atmosphere that captures the nightmarish aspects of the grim story the film tells.

Cinematographer John Hartman, now a cinematographer/editor at Punch Films admits that he can be pretty critical of the stuff he made 10 years ago, but that the visual style of Prelude… is in many ways ahead of its time. “There are techniques we were using then that have ended up taking off,” says Hartman, who had made the sci-fi short d.r.o.n.e.s. before working on Prelude…, and has done a lot of other projects since. “You see it a lot now. We used lots of stills to create the video. Now it’s called ‘the Ken Burns effect,’ but for Prelude… it was like the Ken Burns effect on acid. We were pushing boundaries with what technology was capable of doing at the time.”

And then there’s the story itself. When Prelude… made its debut 10 years ago, Commorato told us it was unequivocally the most brutal subject matter he had ever delved into. Though he added that some of the images and subject matter aren’t anything that couldn’t be seen on any cable TV drama, he didn’t like the thought of the film “sneaking up” on anyone who was expecting something else. So the promo flyers for Prelude… came with a warning, and that still holds. “My concerns are socio-economic: issues of class warfare, racial violence, psycho-sexual violence, the effects of drug and alcohol abuse on very specific circumstances,” Commorato said when the film made its debut. “It’s a grim story for people who are ready to talk about a grim story.”

10 years on, does Commorato look at it and wonder where some of this stuff came from? “Unfortunately, no,” he laughs. “That ‘dark’ world view, that impulse that drew me to the subject matter… that’s still there, despite whatever personal or professional successes followed it. And the guy telling the story in the film? There’s still some of me in there. I could still write that today. Unless we kind of elbow you, you don’t really know where the story stops being a ‘day in the life’ documentary, and where you start getting into Johnny’s head. I’d behave differently in the circumstances, but that’s because I caught a couple of lucky breaks and he caught some bad ones.”

The debut of Prelude to a Bad Tattoo 10 years ago was a pretty big event featuring bands, art, and multiple showings. The 2015 edition on June 6 is a much more low-key affair — there will be a cash-only bar, maybe a few showings, but no live music. “We just didn’t see the need,” Commorato says. “10 years ago, you didn’t see a lot of this in Fort Wayne. There didn’t seem to be very many places putting on non-traditional art shows, or venues showcasing punk bands or edgier rock n’ roll. There’s just more of it out there now.”

_ _ _ _ _ _: Prelude to a Bad Tattoo
Saturday, June 6, 7 PM
Fort Wayne Museum of Art

The film is rated “R”

There will be a cash bar at the showings.

ADMISSION IS FREE

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