Filmmaker Joe Gibbons' 'Confessions of a Sociopath' screens at ArtPace

Joe Gibbons' semi-autobiographical Confessions of a Sociopath is carefully constructed to blur the boundaries of film reality and historic fact. Gibbons narrates as his younger, onscreen persona spirals in and out of trouble. His narration is detached and dry, presented as an older and wiser version of his former self, one that reflects on the many errors of his youth. The experimental film and digital video piece screens at ArtPace on Thursday, March 20.

In the film, it quickly becomes apparent that the elder Gibbons harbors character traits unrelated to the clinical terms he uses in his retrospective self-diagnosis. He is - or rather his semi-contrived onscreen self is - for lack of a medical term, a born miscreant, a functional misfit punk with a probation officer and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Gibbons has been making films and videos for more than 30 years, becoming a sort of Richard Hell with a video camera: brilliant in his approach to elaborately documenting his own self-destruction, and all in all, a fabulous disaster.

Yet Gibbons' work has not always hinged on themes of mock clinical self-exploration. In the mid-'70s, he was a student at Antioch College, an institution the artist describes as a bastion of structural filmmaking. As a result, his early work was much more formalist.

In the late '70s, Gibbons relocated to San Francisco. The Bay Area was the impetus for his autobiographical work. "After I moved to San Francisco," he explains, "I made a film about my neighbors, filmed entirely without them knowing about it. I felt a bit guilty about that and decided to turn the camera on myself in atonement. I soon realized after my first project that I found it more rewarding to just turn a camera on and perform than spend an entire year filming and editing and all that."

Gibbons' early work exists entirely on Super 8. Since the late '80s, however, the low cost and availability of video has slowly supplanted his original, film aesthetic. Confessions is a mixture of old, dreamy Super 8 film framed by segments of stark Digital Video. "Honestly, I've never really much liked the look of video - except for Pixel Vision, which is much more like film in certain ways," Gibbons admits. "Pixel Vision doesn't have that unnatural, over-sharp quality of image and lack of depth that DV has. Digital Video is almost too real. It's too mundane, too shallow. I'd say the only real advantage with using video is the cost."

When using film, people shoot sparingly, which makes logging and editing footage an orderly task. After switching to video, Gibbons was no longer limited by the cost of shooting. Now he has a mountain of footage to contend with.

Easily, the most puzzling aspect of Gibbons' work is the artist's unique ability to sweet talk prestigious organizations like the Guggenheim and Creative Capital into funding his eccentric

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personal stories. So how does he solicit money to make an autobiographical film about being an antisocial kleptomaniac junkie facing multiple prison terms? "Yeah. I do quite like the irony in that," laughs Gibbons. "I was really surprised by the level of interest in this project. I guess I do sometimes successfully downplay the element of reality in my work. I've hinted at outlaw behavior in earlier work, but it wasn't quite as explicit or realistic, since the work didn't openly focus on then transgressive aspects of my life. With Confessions, I do believe a lot of people really think that the documentary-like material in the piece is fictional. They really think that my psychiatrist is an actor." •



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