Watch this Documentary On the Rediscovery of LA's Most Mythologized Performance Artist
Read a Q&A with the documentarians who shot it.
Breadwoman is a musical project that sounds too mythological to be true. In 1982, a performance artist named Anna Homler channeled a primitive vocal chant while driving a car through Los Angeles's lush and mountainous Topanga Canyon region. Working with musician Steve Moshier, Homler used the sounds and chants to develop a theatrical character—a storyteller named Breadwoman. For performances as Breadwoman, Homler would dress entirely in bread, and chant accompanied by the ticking of wind-up clocks that she would place around her, and surrounded by Moshier's tribal-inspired electronic sound manipulations.
Homler's incantatory work brings to mind the performance artist Laurie Anderson, the avant-garde composer Meredith Monk, and NYC underground opera star, Klaus Nomi—blending raw and rural sound and outsider art within an urban aesthetic and energy. As Breadwoman, Homler and Moshier would record an album distributed samizdat-like on cassette before the project came to an end. As the Los Angeles avant-garde underground scene of the 1980s is being rediscovered, Homler has undergone a vital new appreciation of her contribution to it.
Now RVNG Intl, a label that issues forward-thinking music and brings attention to obscure artists, has reissued Homler and Moshier's cassette, along with other unreleased work as Breadwoman & Other Tales, an LP of material that captures Breadwoman's unique and timeless art. To help bring understanding to Homler's former alter ego, RVNG label owner Matthew Werth enlisted documentarians, Hazel Hill McCarthy III and Douglas J McCarthy, to shoot a short film about Homler. Tales and Trails features Homler shot in stark inky black and page white footage telling the story of Breadwoman to the two filmmakers as they drive around Los Angeles.
THUMP reached out to Hazel and Douglas to ask about the impetus for the film and working with Homler.
THUMP: How did you initially link up with RVNG and Anne Homler?
Hazel and Douglas: Matt [from RVNG] contacted us in December 2015, and asked if we could meet Anna [Breadwoman]. MOCA had previewed a short cut of Hazel's film, Bight Of The Twin, Matt had seen it and wanted us to get together. Anna was charming and we spent most of a chilly LA night hearing Breadwoman's story as told by Anna. It was electrifying and, given Breadwoman's absence, we felt as though we were being given an extremely personal glimpse back into the annals of LA contemporary art.
How was working with Anna?
After the way Anna had told us the story of Breadwoman we knew that had to be central to the film. Anna has a very particular way of interacting, or re-interacting, with the world. There is something of "old hollywood" about her—a diva in the nicest possible way. By having Anna in the back of the car we knew we could shoot more of her without having to necessarily reveal her in a conventional "talking head" way. We live by the LA river and having seen some press shots and archival images of Anna's performances, we felt it suited perfectly. Our initial idea was to have Breadwoman literally re-emerge from this ancient world right under our noses but with Anna feeling unwell we had to postpone the first couple of shoot days. This was all happening around Christmas and we eventually started shooting with her between then and New Year's Eve. Anna seemed a little pensive and self-conscious so we concentrated on getting the story told and to make the visual aspect of the tale through environmental shots of the river and archival footage Anna had given us. So, even though Anna didn't want to inhabit the bread mask, we felt confident there would be enough imagery to support her tale. We also shot a gallery performance by Anna to use as cutaways.
What was it like to shoot the film?
Any time we were with Anna it was great fun—entertaining and interesting—and she was a real trooper. Like most cities, LA has a lot of transplants so around the holidays it can be eerily quiet which was perfect for our needs. We had a locked off camera in the back and a handheld pointing over the passenger seat and outside looking in. As we drove through Downtown, Anna reminisced about her studio and 1980's art events with friends and lovers. This helped her warm to the task and she became much more comfortable talking about Breadwoman. We drove for three hours stopping every 30 minutes or so to check the equipment.
Was there a particular reason why it's shot in black and white?
We chose Downtown as our backdrop so that as we drove there would be constantly changing light but, as it was the holidays, the majority of these were "seasonal" and very colorful, which we did not want. Once we started going through the archival footage we wanted to make them more abstract so we them up and made them black and white.
Have you or our you planning to work with RVNG on other projects?
We definitely want to. Matt, Nina and Phil are great to work with. Super positive and supportive. It feels like working with kindred spirits —our brethren!