Killing Time with Elizabeth Theis
Monsters, both in the figurative and literal sense, have been utilized worldwide in cultures for millenniums
Monsters, both in the figurative and literal sense, have been utilized worldwide in cultures for millenniums. Boredom, however, is relatively new to humanity, created by industrialization and fueled into overdrive by digital technology. These two motifs, along with the concept of celebrity, are explored in the form of a sitcom, Killing Time with Lizzie Boredom, written, directed and starring video artist Elizabeth Theis, which screened recently at the Bushwick Film Festival. Killing Time is a story about an agoraphobic hypochondriac who believes she is destined to be the next big thing. In her work, Theis often uses themes involving our relationship with media, narcissism, boredom and mortality.
I sat down with her to ask her about her transition from experimental video to comedy.
What were some of your motivations in moving from experimental film to comedy?
Well, it wasn't an intentional transition. My work has always been somewhat of a social commentary, and it's always had a sort of sardonic humor to it, but I only recently started defining it as comedy. The comedy audience is a lot broader. Though I still love making socially conscious documentaries or experimental films, it can leave you feel like you're preaching to the choir.
When you're part of the choir you get to look down on the rest of the world and say “We’re so much better than you.”
With the show, I'm a member of the group of people that I’m critiquing, and I don't want to deny that by getting on some intellectual high horse.
When you say a lot of your work is self-critical, would you say that the character Lizzie Boredom is a commentary on the inherent narcissism on the Millenial generation or on society as a whole?
Narcissism is definitely something we’ve seen spreading in the past ten years, but each emerging form of media that has been introduced since the oral history has become more about he individual as opposed to the community. When you move from oral culture, storytelling and things like that, to a written culture, it becomes more about the relationship that the individual has with words on paper. From there it becomes further and further fragmented with industrialization and radio. The more choices we have, the more individualistic it becomes, especially now that we can create online personas where we can show the world the way we want to be seen and hide what we don’t want seen. Lizzie represents this modern dilemma and the way we've become so immersed in digital technology that we shut the world out and only relate to the world via devices.
Is that why you tend to use a lot of analog means of communication and media like in Lizzie Boredom?
I use a lot of analog media, because I want this character to be timeless, at least from the point of industrialization. The concept of boredom is a product of industrialization and modernization. Everything from the mid 19th century to the present is cultivated in the show because it’s all symbolically representing the psyche of boredom, narcissism and individualism. But at the same time it’s a stylistic choice because that’s what I’m attracted to.
Would you say that also includes Americana? Because I noticed that I saw a lot of classic 50’s television commercials, fitness videos and turkey which brings to mind Thanksgiving, which is an American holiday.
I think as an artist some of the decisions you make are just inherent or animalistic in a way and you just do them without realizing what they symbolize until later. With that, a lot of what I’m focusing on I want it to be universal, at least for my Western audience. Everyone has had that night where they’re bored, watching television and something like Home Shopping Network or an infomercial comes on and it's depressingly mesmerizing. That to me is one of the quintessential American experiences. I wanted to use that as a basis to stem from, all the absurd media that Lizzie Boredom parodies in her hallucinations is a nod to that empty, late-night feeling of being satiated yet unfulfilled.
Why choose video as an artistic medium?
Without sounding pretentious, I don't think you choose the thing you're passionate about - just as you don't choose the person you fall in love with. There's just a chemistry once you stumble over it; you find something that makes you feel good and you just keep doing it. I discovered my passion for video during my adolescence, which was pretty broken. My parents divorced and my mother became chronically ill around the time I entered middle school. I became really reclusive and detached myself from the world around me. I was lucky enough to get accepted into a publicly-funded arts high school in a nearby city, to which I owe a debt of gratitude for having saved my life. It was there that I took my first video production and photography classes. I enjoyed how these mediums allowed me to quietly observe and critique the world around me, they gave me a voice. The process of making films was therapeutic and still is today.
What do you hope to accomplish with the character Lizzie Boredom?
Despite the self-centered comments about filmmaking being therapy for me, and despite the fact that I'm writing about an axe murderer, what I really want to do with Lizzie Boredom is relate to people.
There's no better way to connect with others than with comedy.
But it's new ground for me. I've always been really serious and earnest with my work, and because it's so grounded in philosophy, I end up isolating people. Humor is more comfortable and allows you to cast a wide net, because you're exploiting the mundane details of everyday life. I feel like a lot of us are scared of how mysterious life can be, and it's nice to be able to laugh at how absurd "it all" is. Lizzie Boredom is full of allegory and meaning and philosophy, but I don't think I need to harp on those in order for people to "get" it. As long as they're laughing, they've got it.
Killing Time with Lizzie Boredom will be screening at the "Mixed Messages Student Media Works Showcase" at New School University on December 7.