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Feature Film Online: Maintenance

Exposed! What people do in the privacy of their very own homes is put on display for all to see in Adele Horne‘s very dirty movie, Maintenance. Horne’s subjects do it all: Scrubbing, dusting, sweeping, mopping. No, those aren’t euphemisms. Maintenance exposes the private act of cleaning in an entirely engrossing way.

Horne’s use of single, long takes documenting the cleaners’ actions seems indebted to the work of James Benning, who even appears in one of the segments. (Both are faculty members at the California Institute of the Arts.)

But, Maintenance also has something of a Hollis Frampton vibe to it, especially in the way she follows each documentary vignette with an on-screen text monologue of each cleaner. This gives the film a narrative vibe that it wouldn’t have otherwise, which is entirely not similar to, but feels vaguely reminiscent of Frampton films like Nostalgia or Poetic Justice.

James Benning cleans a window

Not that Maintenance exists either to just be connected to other filmmakers’ works. It is a singular work and basic in its concept and execution, but utterly absorbing. There is something very insightful in silently observing a private activity that we are not usually privvy to when our fellow humans are performing it, even when that activity is something as mundane as cleaning.

Setting a camera on any subject — no matter how “verite” a filmmaker’s intentions are — always seems to change that subject’s behavior. However, Horne does seem to avoid that trap by keeping her camera very still and at a good distance. The vignettes really do feel like they are just surreptitiously recording human behavior and are not being “performed” in any way, giving Maintenance an extraordinarily genuine feeling.


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