Thirteen Black Cats

Corpse Cleaner, 2016
Galerie de l’UQAM

Fatal Act: Corpse Cleaner, the latest film produced by the research and production collective Thirteen Black Cats, addresses the legacy of atomic power in the 20th and 21st centuries. This short film focuses on the letters exchanged between Claude Eatherly, the air force pilot whose “all clear” weather report enabled the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and Günther Anders, the German philosopher, theorist and anti-nuclear activist whose work fixated on technology’s capacity to outpace human intention.

As a voice-over retells the content of the letters, we learn that Hollywood producer Bob Hope approached Eatherly to make a film about his life. Anders actively encouraged Eatherly to refuse the offer. A former movie prop cleaner in the Hollywood Custom Palace, Anders claimed that the Hollywood apparatus would not be able to process this “fatal act”.

Fatal Act: Corpse Cleaner investigates the possibility of filming the “unfilmable”. Anders’ prop closet, where he rubbed, brushed, and vacuumed Hollywood’s costumes, serves as a metaphor for the relationship of art to atomic power. How does one depict such a historically important force when it escapes concrete determination? How does one prevent the representation from becoming a false image, a predetermined imitation of an elusive original? How does one avoid the trap against which Anders cautioned Eatherly without simply retreating from representation altogether (and thereby granting the atomic an untouchable, semi-sacred quality)? While Anders lamented that “our imagination is unable to grasp the effect of what we are producing”, he understood that he had become, in his own words, “history’s corpse cleaner”. —PP

Corpse Cleaner is commissioned and produced by La Biennale de Montréal for BNLMTL 2016, Le Grand Balcon.

Corpse Cleaner is presented by La Biennale de Montréal in partnership with Galerie de l’UQAM.