In the shadows of moonlit streets, the corners of seedy offices and the darkest nights of cinema’s imagination – what lurks beneath the gritty surface of film noir?
In his first solo exhibition, Erotica Beastia, Sam Branton treats these places as doorways into the erotic underbelly of films and visual stories. Taking noir classics such as Kiss Me Deadly, The Third Man, and Key Largo as the starting points for his drawings, he introduces a cast of cartoon-like characters that mix with and infect the films’ original inhabitants. Set out as a visual storyboard, the films begin to take place in an alien world of humans and hybrids where the characters seem oblivious to their descent into mutation and madness.
Cops become corrupted not just morally but physically, their faces transformed by elephantine phallic distortions to make them look like sex toys in suits. Weird, wonderful, gentle creatures hide in the shadows and, once found, are interviewed, bullied, inspected and dissected by the mob. By combining the psychological grit of film noir with the tender innocence of playthings, the drawings create an unusual sense of disorientation and disquiet, the toys’ naivety enhancing a sense of animal sexuality bubbling under in these corrupted, perverted characters. In the process, the storyboard becomes like a maze into which the viewer has stumbled and now, in too deep, can see no way out of, and even less to hold on to or call “familiar”.
Much like any bacchanalia, it has moments both light and dark. The innocence of the playthings creates touching scenes, such as the umbilical bond of the mutants in suits of “What else have you got left”. Others are humorous in their absurdity, like the deflated aggression of two gangsters that can hardly hold their forms in “Boys, forget the whale”. But throughout, the drawings are shot through with a sexuality that sways from playful perversion to raw carnal desire, captured poignantly in the genital aberrations and insectine faces of the swarm of men in “A hundred nuts and one squirrel”.