Rina Sherman
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Chicken Movie. Cluck!

Rina Sherman

1983, 20 Min, 16mm

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Chicken Movie. Cluck !

Un chauffeur promène sa Madame dans le down town de Johannesburg des années ’80, visites d’amis, de townships, de terrains vagues. Le voyage se termine avec un bal nuptiale-funèbre où les hommes dansent au chant du coq et le rythme de la musique zoulou.

A chauffeur drives his Madam about in downtown Johannesburg; visits to friends, townships, wastelands. The trip ends with a nuptial-funeral ball where the men dance to the cock's crow and the rhythm of Zulu music.

Chicken Fetishism

I no longer know how it came about that I turned into a chicken fetishist. A lover of animals as a child, less so now, unless they are where they ought to be, that is outside, I have always had pet chickens. Chickens become tame and affectionate. They ride on your shoulder and also do their business all over the place. I never managed to potty train a chicken. My aunt had a cock in Postmasburg who used to get quite sloshed on Brandewyn, Oude Meester, I would think. She also had a crow that was the drinking mate of the cock and a pig that used to follow her into the Dopper Kerk on Sundays and create havoc sniffing through the women's silk stockings searching for my Aunt. We used to spend winter holidays on my grand father's Kalahari desert farm between Upington and Olifantshoek. My father would take a half jack of Brandy to give to Old Goeieman, Bobby, the main farm hand’s father and then already very old. Old Goeieman would come to the farm house from the strooise hidden by a double lane of Turksvy trees and ask for his medicine. Before we returned to CT, he would come with what was known in that world at the time as a “Kaffer Hoender”, a spotted chicken. The chicken was promptly named Goeieman, stuck into a box and propped up between us three children on the back seat and off we went on a two day ride back to CT, watching Goeieman through a hole in the box. Goeieman became much attached to my father and quite jealous of anyone who came close to him. At a quarter to five in the afternoon, when my father arrived home from work, Goeieman, upon recognizing the sound of my father’s navy blue zephyr, would run down the alley to the gate, and if my sister or myself happened to be doing the same, there would be war. He would screech and kick at us until my father got out of the car to calm him down.

One day, when I arrived in our backyard, I came upon my mother who was chopping off the heads of my two dozen chickens. The yard was filled with headless chickens running and bleeding all over the place. She stopped, axe in mid air and said: If you think it is easy for me, you are making a mistake. And continued to chop off the heads of the remaining chickens. She had chased them into a backyard toilet and in between each chopping; she would go into the toilet and come out holding a screaming chicken by the neck.

I think it was around the time of Possession Arts that my interest in chickens started growing into a fetishism. I did a chicken performance with Wilhelm Hahn at the Market Theatre, in which I showed chicken ritual images n a screen (sheet) and below had my pet chicken Flabelula in a yellow wire cage on stage. In the first row my mother sat cutting up raw chicken flesh and passing it around to other members of the public. I then took Flabelula out of her cage and turned her neck under her wings to Hypnotize her. Some people fled, thinking that I was going to turn off her neck.

I published a Chicken Poem*, which later became the libretto for a film opera, An Egg with no Shell, I made in Paris many years later, which features Jean Rouch as a valet drawing a stuffed chicken on a wheeled platform. During the screening of the film, in the courtyard of the old Kremlin Bicêtre Asylum near Paris, Jean looked at a tree root in the ground and said, it looks like a clitoris. He then said the “kuif” of chickens are their clitoris. And concluded that all fetishism is about sexuality. I was busy filming at the time and could not pursue the conversation further. The ancient Sumerians had numerous words to describe chicken moods.

When I left SA, Flabelula was given to Margie’s parents in the country side, and there she probably landed up in a pot. Just before leaving SA I made first chicken film, Chicken Movie. Cluck! The sound track is entirely made up of chicken sounds as a parody to the unfolding of the different scenes. I left chicken fetichism behind me when one day a woman called me from the south of France to ask if I was the chicken woman. I said no, and that was the end of chickens.

However, when I was living with the Headman of Etanga and his family in the north west of Namibia for seven years, I always had dozens of chickens running around my camp, with chicks to follow, and I loved it, the bodies thrown forward in a quest for always more.

That is all, it was a period, that allowed me to express certain ideas, directly or indirectly through chicken imagery. No more.

* An Egg with no Shell 35 mm, 13 mn, 1992.