3 Minutes From Opryland
Through July 27
Fugitive Art Center
440 Houston St. 256-7067
Hours: 3-6 p.m. Fri.; noon-5 p.m. Sat.; & by appt.
In “3 Minutes From Opryland,” the current exhibit at the Fugitive Art Center, Michael Carter’s 75-minute documentary and Joe Shay’s 40 black-and-white photographs explore the wrestlers, fans, and various exploits at local professional wrestling matches. Caught among the various images, at once lyrical and grotesque, are TV static, ropes, heroes and heels, homemade highway signs, children, spectators, any number of wrestling holds, and Nashville lawyer Bart Durham. The resulting show is part comedy, part drama, and part sociological studya respectful, playful, and visually exciting meditation on a phenomenon that few people are familiar with.
Shay first got the idea for the exhibit when he was introduced to a wrestling announcer at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. Though the MTSU photography student had never been interested in photojournalism, the subject intrigued him enough that he began documenting the local wrestling circuit for a class project. He then invited Carter, a Watkins film student, to collaborate with him. “The photos need the video,” Shay explains, “because I hate to write. It would be a little boring too if I tried to explain it with eight panels of text, you know, exploring every character.”
“Originally, I went and shot a couple of rolls of Super 8,” Carter recalls, “thinking whenever [Joe] did have a show, I would just run clips on a loop.” But after the filmmaker’s first visit to a wrestling match, the project so interested him that he bought a Sony Hi 8 digital video camera using money from a school loan.
While both artists have created some intriguing work in their year-and-a-half-long project, the strength of the Fugitive exhibit lies in their collaborationin how well Shay’s photographs and Carter’s moving images complement each other. The artists agree that the merging of media and minds was mutually beneficial. “I remember at one point Joe had an image, a close-up of a woman framed from the shoulder up,” Carter says. “She is standing still with her mouth open. I went over to his house, and he had it on his wall. I was just looking at that, and it made her look so beautiful.”
Carter responded by incorporating the image into the documentary and placing it immediately before footage of the same woman in a frustrated, angry state. “That’s the only way the photograph works too, is in the context of the video,” Shay says. “It’s not even in this show...but it does work in the video.”
In the film, Carter elaborates, the photograph “cuts straight to her trying to get out of the arms of this security guard. It’s like she’s busting through this still, idealized image.”
This juxtaposition between chaos and calm crops up throughout the film, which begins with a gray screen covered in white static. The static continues as the credits run onscreen, interspersed with Shay’s photographs. Throughout the rest of the film, Carter uses a black screen with music and brief bits of text to introduce each segment. These breaks in the action help to offset the anarchy of the wrestling matches, and they’re flanked by Shay’s languorous images of characters we will soon see screaming, grappling, or otherwise interacting onscreen.
One of Carter’s goals, he explains, was to abandon the usual voice-over documentary style. “I just wanted to set it up where you could see who the characters weremore like a narrative structure where you get to know them, and then you have the opportunity to see them like you were there.” The film is divided up by topics and characters, but within each segment it cuts frenetically back and forth between the action at several different venues. The result is that rituals such as introductory announcements, raffles, fans, wrestlers, and stage mothers are compared and contrasted as they’re simultaneously enacted in these various settings. But as the narrative progresses, the framework intentionally unravels, mirroring the deterioration of order that often occurs during the matches themselves.
Featuring such wrestlers as The Midgets, The Wild Boys, and Chris Danger, “3 Minutes From Opryland” is full of rich imagery. Like many of the wrestling enthusiasts they interviewed, the two artists see the sport as a metaphor for life. As Carter puts it: “The ring itself, going there and getting their work week out on watching the good guy winning, the bad guy cheating. You knowthe whole immediate element of drama.” The beauty of “3 Minutes From Opryland” is that this drama is seen through two distinctive, yet equally poetic and empathetic, viewpoints to produce an evocative account of a far-out occurrence that takes place each weekend in our own backyard.
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