Xeno & Oaklander's Liz Wendelbo

Post Author:
Liz Wendelbo and Sean McBride of Xeno & Oaklander

I remember watching Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s ‘The Magic Flute’ (1975) as a kid. My mum took me to see it because it was my favorite piece of music at the time. Maybe I identified with the fact that Mozart was a child when he wrote it. This was a time before hitting puberty, so I had no notion of pop music yet, let alone underground or subversive music. I was still bathed in the naive yet melancholic light of childhood. While watching the film I thought it was strange that it was a film about the ‘making of’ an opera — not only was the film showing the actual play, but Bergman also showed viewers the actors backstage, the costumes, the sets, the lights. For instance, there is a scene in which one of the characters, a young boy, is reading a Donald Duck comic book off-stage. Bergman was constantly making us aware that all this was but an illusion: and throughout the film he sought to disrupt our ‘suspension of disbelief’. American movies and cartoons have always been masters of ‘suspension of disbelief’. Maybe this reference to Donald Duck is an allusion to that. But then I thought, what if the actors stopped remembering that this is an opera? What if they started believing that this was their real lives? What if they became the costumes, the masks, the make-up? What if they became the character and never stopped believing? While watching the film, I refused to suspend my disbelief. I wanted the line to be blurred, and I wanted the insanity to overtake the actors. But of course none of that happened. The threat of it was always present though, suggested, like an underlying menace beneath the stark minimal Scandinavian aesthetic. Donald Duck. Which reminds me of an anecdote Sean [McBride, of Xeno & Oaklander] is fond of. He once saw a filmed interview of the film-maker and writer Kenneth Anger. Kenneth Anger is famous for his beautifully controversial films and his risqué books on the LA movie industry called ‘Hollywood Babylon’, and ‘Hollywood Babylon II’. In his books he exposes Hollywood sex scandals and investigates suspicious suicides and murders. In this video interview Kenneth Anger is sitting down on a chair in what seems to be his home office. He is wearing a nice Oxford dress shirt. He talks about his career with great seriousness. When Anger is done with the interview he asks the director if the camera is still running, and the director says “No, it’s off,” although the camera is still running. The director asks Anger about a photo in the background and Anger gets up from his chair to have a look at it. As he turns his back to the camera, we see a strange and startling detail on the back of his dress shirt: an appliqué of Tweety Bird. Xeno & Oaklander recently released their new single, “Sets & Lights” on Wierd Records. They play at the New Museum October 22.