Amy Greenfield, a Critical Essay


While Amy Greenfield is known for her talent in choreography and dance, it is not surprising that her films are impressive in terms of intricate body movement. The passion that is communicated in the film, Antigone/Rites of Passion, through the actors choreography is clearly the most powerful element to the film and its art. The actors' passionate movements and facial expressions, paired with intense narrating voice-overs and haunting musical score make the legendary tale of King Oedipus and his exiled offspring enthralling. All the elements combined make this a feature film that is a highly impressive piece of art by Greenfield.

Critics have had mixed reviews of Greenfield and her work, particularly in terms of Antigone/Rites of Passion. Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times has given the feature film a complimentary review, "...Dazzling, demanding....It is a bold, triumphantly ambitious and successful attempt to fuse dance and mime with sound and image to bring fresh meaning to Sophoclean tragedy..." ADVANCE \d 5

Others are not so complimentary. According to Jennifer Dunning, reviewer for the New York Times, "One wants to like Amy Greenfield's new Antigone/Rites for the Dead. Ms. Greenfield, a dancer turned film and video maker, has labored long in the field. But the 85-minute color film, which opens at the Anthology Film Archives today, is a disappointment."

Greenfield plays the title role of Antigone and shows an intensity in her choreography that forces the audience to feel the emotions her character is going through. Moments in the beginning of the film are filled with despair and suffering, as Antigone and her sister lead their blind father through the wilderness, yet it is clear in their movements and faces that there is a strong sense of love for their family that overshadows all the events that are to come in the film. The setting is in a serene yet powerful forest with waterfalls and rock formations that add to the feeling of exile, loneliness and passion.

Upon the death of King Oedipus, the feeling of utter sadness and mourning permeate the aura of the scene and is made clear through the almost violent body movements displayed by Antigone and her sister.

Battle scenes between the two brothers, and later between Creon and his son are often violent and aggressive as well, but always exude an underlying emotion that is full of passion for one another and their values. The scenes with Creon are often held in a cemented dwelling that give a definite sense of law, order and prestige which contrast the serene freedom of the wilderness atmosphere. A sense of definite authority is seen with the character Creon and his kingdom. Thus, it is refreshing and shocking to see Antigone's disregard and defiance towards Creon's rule when she chooses to bury her brother's dead body and then stands behind her prideful and defiant actions.

In the climactic scenes featuring Antigone's condemnation and death, the audience experiences the true desperation, pain and suffering that she withstood during her final moments. In viewing these emotions on film as they are made evident mainly through her vigorous body movement and often haunting musical background, it is ultimately shocking and impressive for the viewer. Clearly, body movement on film is underestimated in terms of expressing such raw emotions especially in such an epic tale as in "Antigone."

According to the Art Works Video Catalogue, Amy Greenfield has been pushing the boundaries of dance and cinema since the early 1970s. Her work is known for its earthy rawness and proto-feminist point of view. In Greenfield's 1974 work, Videotape for a Woman and Man, audiences may at first experience utter shock at seeing the two performers Greenfield and her male partner as being completely stark naked. This 33-minute film features the female and male performers in a series of progressive dance-like and often highly acrobatic body movements with pauses in the film that integrate vocal phrases in order to explain some of the emotions and motives that the film maker is intending to express to the audience. The nakedness of the performers ultimately expresses a sense of freedom in their complete exposure in order to communicate the essence of the raw emotions that a man and woman can experience towards one another in a relationship. In doing so, they clearly tell us that they have nothing to hide. Their emotions are real and unhindered because of their nakedness. The movements of these nude performers range from loving to violent to erotic and passionate as they tell their story through uninhibited movement.

The film also goes from black and white, as the two perform in a studio, to in-color, as the performers frolic and writhe in a beachfront atmosphere. It is as though the relationship between the woman and man has been through so many emotions and struggles that it eventually leads to enlightenment amidst the powerful and ultimately beautiful ocean front.

This film is certainly innovative and the performers hold nothing back in their performances. The risk that Greenfield took in making this film makes her an adventurous film maker. While some may view this experiment in filmography as pornographic, it is certainly passionate and unlike any videos previously made. It sends powerful messages through choreography of its performers and through their eye-opening nudity. Certainly the video is full of emotion and passion that is simply not communicated in films devoid of such uninhibited nudity and passionate performance.

Camera angles also added to the power of this piece of work. Close-ups were often of unmentionable areas in order to show a side of these performers and their emotions in a way that most people do not expect and do not even see coming. Various directions of the camera, from below and above the performers, add more dimensions to this audacious and risk-taking endeavor in human expression through the body movement and film.

--Missy Briggs. 2006.

Amy Greenfield