Grant Morrison’s run on Animal Man in the late 1980s is one of the foundational texts that helped demonstrate comics’ importance as a serious artistic medium. Alongside works like Swamp Thing and The Sandman, it was as much a response to the contemporary trend of “gritty realism” in comics as it was a participant in the movement. But while Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman were off making comics grow up, Morrison was making them self-aware. Gradually, throughout the duration of the series, Animal Man becomes more conscious of his own nature as a fictional character until, in the penultimate issue of Morrison’s run, he meets Morrison himself. Aside from this most obvious technique, Morrison also uses the repetition of scenes (most notably Animal Man’s origin story, which changes with each re-telling) and literally bends the fourth wall to dismantle reality.
I’m not breaking new ground saying this — it’s all been well documented and analyzed elsewhere (seriously, go read Animal Man) — but the same techniques of deconstruction Morrison used resurface in Nicolás Pereda’s newest film, Greatest Hits. The film begins as a sparse melodrama concerning a father returning to the family he abandoned fifteen years prior. Like Animal Man, the first half of the narrative is comparatively straightforward, introducing themes that will dominate the second half without yet cracking the veneer of reality. After we are introduced to Gabino, his mother, and his job selling bootleg CDs (a “Greatest Hits” compilation), Gabino’s father moves back in and attempts to recruit the family into a pyramid scheme. In fact, “work” reappears throughout the film as a strange motif; none of the characters seem to engage in legitimate or respectable forms of it, which is probably a commentary on the lack of opportunity for the working-class, a theme throughout Pereda’s films.
The film continues to examine Gabino’s relationship with his mother and returned father in typical minimalist fashion until the halfway point when, in the middle of a scene, an unseen voice from behind the camera addresses the cast members. From this moment on, the reality of the film breaks down — camera angles become askew and more candid, as in a documentary, the crew walks through scenes and interacts with cast members. One of the most interesting dynamics of the finale of Animal Man is the notion that Grant Morrison writes himself into the story to discuss the story’s constructed nature. Greatest Hits does the same thing: by introducing crewmembers into his shots, Pereda points to the film’s artificial nature while at the same time transforming these real-life people into “characters” themselves.
In addition to these techniques, which point to the construct of film as an artificial reality, Greatest Hits is concerned with how subtle changes in the set up of a scene can affect the scene as a whole. Pereda employs several methods to this end: change of location, change of participants, sometimes simply repeating two separate takes back-to-back. The most interesting stylistic choice Pereda makes is the one to abruptly replace the actor in the role of the father. Not only does it act as a commentary on the idea of replacing actors in television shows or movie sequels (like the thousands of different writers and artists who take turns with a single comic character), but it also changes the dynamics of the remaining scenes. These actions are Pereda’s way of de-tuning the piano or adjusting tape loop speeds. But just like much of early minimalist music, the film can be exhausting at times. As the story is abandoned, the film becomes more of an exercise in formal restrictions. Greatest Hits makes you try, which is an accomplishment in itself, but it is much more interesting to talk about than to actually watch.