glamour, the wild west and a queenslander

matt dabrowski and the many hands of glamour
Moreton Street Spare Room, Brisbane
16 May 2009

Moreton Street is a leafy street in New Farm, Brisbane, and the house at number 105 is a small Queenslander flanked by a five-story apartment building. On a semi-regular basis the tenants of 105 Moreton Street open their house to the public for contemporary art exhibitions under the guise of Moreton Street Spare Room (MSSR). On 16 May 2009, Matt Dabrowski and the Many Hands of Glamour presented An Abridged History of Western Cinema at MSSR. Smoking guns, cowboys and their trusty horses were aplenty, even John Wayne made an appearance, and on this night the battles of the Wild West were fought in a Brisbane backyard.

While MSSR appears on most accounts to be a domestic setting, there is one feature that sets it apart: the 6 x 3 metre projection screen in the backyard. Matt Dabrowski and the Many Hands of Glamour used this unusual feature and brought some of the magic of the silver screen to this suburban setting. Screening ‘for one night only!’ were abridged versions of a few of John Wayne’s films from the 1930s, including Randy Rides Alone, ’Neath The Arizona Skies, The Dawn Rider, and Hell Town. These classics were edited down to their essence: horseback chases and shootouts. Like a porn movie, the plot line barely made an appearance and the dialogue was kept to a minimum—so as to not to interfere with the action.

A remotely controlled smoke-ring canon was constructed and mounted behind the screen specifically for the event. Inspiration for this device was drawn from the Camel cigarettes billboard that blew smoke rings over Times Square from 1941 to 1966. The smoking cowboys who appeared on Marlboro advertising billboards from the 1970s provided additional inspiration. During some of the shootout scenes the canon would fire in sync with the gunshots, giving a third dimension to the action seen on screen. The smoke-rings that were produced from the centre of the screen obscured the image. At the same time the smoke highlighted the light beams emitted by the projector.

The audience sat on hay bales scattered throughout the garden and witnessed the shootouts on the screen behind Fenris, the horse. The dark stallion stood so tall that at times he obscured the projection. Fenris’s presence linked this Brisbane production of Hollywood depicting the Wild West back to an actual natural resource. The images on screen showed the reliance of cowboys on the domesticated horse, which highlighted the artificiality of cowboys being used as symbols of freedom and independence in the western genre.

The spectacle of a live horse, a smoking screen and crowd of cinema enthusiasts was too good for the neighbours in the apartment block next door who took time out from their daily chores to take a glimpse at the action. The excitement once created by the opportunity of a rare night out, fresh popping corn and the novelty of a new medium was rekindled by the novelty of a smoking screen and the nostalgia for the drive-in. With a contemporary take on western classics, iconic advertising, and infamous gimmicks Matt Dabrowski and the Many Hands of Glamour injected a Queensland street with some silver screen magic.