Saturday, April 12, 2014

One Hamilton Fish Killed, the Other Didn't

In 2010, ESPN series "30 for 30" made a big splash with The Two Escobars, a riveting look at the parallel and eventually intersecting lives of Colombian drug king Pablo Escobar and Colombian soccer star Andres Escobar.

That same year, experimental artist Rachel Mason exhibited The Deaths of Hamilton Fish at the Marginal Utility gallery in Philadelphia. The evolving multimedia presentation examined the strange, surreal fate of two men named Hamilton Fish who both died on the same day - January 15th, 1936.

Mason was sparked to that fact by an archived front page of New York regional newspaper the Peeksill Evening Star News. On that January day, the paper ran two articles on its front page; one was an obituary for esteemed statesman Fish and the other, an item that same-named serial killer Fish was to be executed that night at Sing Sing prison.

That's right; these two men, with the same name, were the chilling real-life embodiment of good and evil. Exceedingly so, as the good Fish served in the New York State assembly from 1874 to 1896, as U.S. Assistant Treasurer from 1903 to 1908 and as a Republican Congressman from 1909 to 1911.

From an NBC Philadelphia report:

That bizarre [death day] coincidence prompted Mason to spend seven years writing a 20-song cycle imagining the ways their lives intersected — both real and fantastic. She shot a feature-length film as a kind of extended music video in which actors mouth the lyrics to her songs...
"He [the Sing Sing Fish] kind of makes Jeffrey Dahmer look like child's play," said Mason, adding that this was a "poor choice of words, but he ate children."

This month, through May 25th, Mason has returned to the same Philly gallery located at 319 North 11th Street to present what is now called The Lives of Hamilton Fish. The gallery is open weekends on an appointment basis, but additionally, this coming Tuesday, Mason will also screen her hybrid project with local musician Steve Dufala at nearby The University of the Arts' Gershman Hall.

It's the American premiere, following a screening last summer in Hong Kong at the Pineapple Underground Film Festival. In future, the experimental flavor of the project will very likely be squared, as Mason has indicated she would like to see others take the source material and perform it, in their own way, as "karaoke rock opera."

Most of the film was shot in Garrison, New York. And it was originally not even supposed to be a film. From the director's notes:

The songs which make up The Lives of Hamilton Fish were all written by Mason between 2005 and 2013. Originally the project started out as a musical piece, having written the first song, "The Duel," on her bicycle after a chance meeting with the living Hamilton Fish V, other songs started to come out of the research and trips that Mason would make to Garrison.

[The Lives of Hamilton Fish]

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