by Alison Gillmor, CBC Reviewer | Thursday July 19, 2012
Scene from "Pam's Dream." (Erica Eyres)
Winnipeg artist Erica Eyres, currently based in the U.K., likes to make strategic interventions in pop-culture forms. Her new video, Pam's Dream, replicates an entire episode of the TV show Dallas in a way that is purposely, uncomfortably, adorably awkward. (The work is organized by Platform Centre but will be screened outdoors at 44 Princess Street at 9:00 p.m., July 19th.)
In this skewy version of the 1980s primetime soap, all parts are played by small Scottish children, who sport big '80s hair, glitzy makeup and cowboy hats. Props and sets include pop guns, fake cars, toy horses and a model of Southfork ranch made out of cardboard.
In messing around with our expectations, Eyres has also zeroed in on the May, 1986 Dallas episode that famously ripped through the narrative fabric of series television. Ratings had slumped in the ninth season after the 1985 departure of Patrick Duffy. His character, earnest Bobby Ewing, had flat-lined at a hospital in front of seven people and been buried at a thronged funeral. So how to bring him back? (Unknown twin? Fake Bobby?)
The surreal solution was "Pam's dream." Pam, Bobby's ex-wife and true love, wakes up to a miraculously live Bobby to say that she dreamed that he was dead. Her nightmare, of necessity, included the whole previous 31-episode season, which was completely wiped out.
I still remember the gobsmacked global reaction. Dallas had always indulged in soapy over-the-top plotting, but there was a shocked feeling that some fundamental line had been crossed in terms of narrative rules. (Later analysts have jokingly proposed a two-Earth theory, which suggests that the 1985-86 season exists in a parallel universe. Some contrarians claim that everything after Pam woke up is the dream.)
Eyres explores the social and psychological resonances of pop-culture myths. But even as she crafts the Dallas storyline, she's exploding it. The absolutely dear children - the wee bairn who plays Jack Ewing can't be more than seven - giggle, get distracted, and haltingly read their lines from hidden pieces of paper, and there's an odd dissonance between their innocent faces and the sordid scheming of their characters.
At first, I was frustrated by the fuzzy audio and kooky line readings and wondered whether it was necessary to do the whole episode. Ultimately, though, the project's irresistibly weird premise gathered momentum and I totally gave in. There's something about a nine-year-old in a power suit.