Laura Parnes’ mockumentary Tour Without End casts real-life musicians, artists and actors as bands on tour, and expands into a cross-generational, Trump-era commentary on contemporary culture and politics. It screens on Wednesday, September 12 at 7pm, with the director here in attendance for a Q&A. We talked to the Philly-born and raised artist about the film and how it fits into the body of her work.
What prompted you to make Tour Without End?
Much of my films and installations often address counter-cultural and youth culture where music is integral to the work. I craft loose narratives about trauma and repressed memory around mass-culture and youthful rites of passage. Tour Without End is a continuation of these themes but from a decidedly adult perspective. Often my work is highly stylized but for this project everything is set in DIY venues, relies on improvisation and relates to cinema verite. It was such a pleasure to have such a brilliant group of performers to work with. The project began with Kate Valk and Jim Fletcher (Wooster Group), actors I had worked with before. When Lizzi Bougatsos (Gang Gang Dance) joined, along with Shannon Funchess (Light Asylum), Eartheater and Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill), the film just started to write itself. It has a real Warhol Factory vibe.
What was easiest and most challenging about the mockumentary format?
It refers to classic hybrid films such as This Is Spinal Tap or Medium Cool but with the improvisation there is constant slippage into reality. It’s an ode to underground artists, where the performers are encouraged to be both petty and profound. They are all natural comedians so the result is absurdly comedic and occasionally shocking. As with many documentary films, the editing required sifting through an enormous amount of footage. It took a year to complete the edit.
What has most surprised you about audience reactions?
I’m happy to hear so much laughter during many of the screenings but I’ve also had very intense emotional reactions from people who are connected to the performers. A friend of mine was screaming at me during a private screening “I’m triggered! I’m triggered!” (Trigger alert: The film mentions cancer and Donald Trump.) So much has happened during four years of shooting, and so many drastic life changes are embedded in the scenes—breakups, couples connecting, spaces closing, people forced to move due to gentrification and the death of several friends.
Has anything about the relationship between art and politics changed in the time since you started shooting this film?
In some ways I think of this film as a time capsule, capturing a group of enormously creative people over the course of several years. Some of the performers are committed activists and their politics fuse musical expression with political action but much of the music scene definitely exists in an echo chamber. None of us were prepared for the rise of neo-fascism taking place across the country. Six of us travelled to Cleveland with a plan to participate in the protests against Trump at the Republican convention and also to improvise scenes along the way. When we arrived, it was clear that the people protesting Trump were outnumbered by the extreme right. I felt it was important to have the characters confront this harsh reality and to assert that no one exists outside of politics.
You grew up and went to school in Philly. What were some of your cultural inspirations when you were here?
Philadelphia has a fantastic music scene, and I loved The Roots and comedic bands like the Dead Milkmen and Ween. The Duchamp collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art was a favorite, the ICA, and, of course, the Mütter Museum. My father is a film buff and would take me to age-inappropriate, extremely difficult films. For instance, when I was twelve, he took me to Schlondorff’s the Tin Drum, a black comedy taking place in Germany during WW2 about a boy who rejects his fascist society by intentionally stunting his own growth. I thought of the protagonist as a punk singer, and his perverse act of resistance resonated with me.