Now on view at Regen Projects, Opie’s silent ode to the city is solely told with still, black-and-white images.

LOS ANGELES — Photographer Catherine Opie has ventured into film for the first time. Known primarily as a social documenter of America’s physical, ideological, and political landscapes, her new short film The Modernist is inspired by veteran French filmmaker Chris Marker’s landmark 1962 movie La Jetée. Now on view at Regen Projects, Opie’s silent film is a fiction without a narrative, told solely with still images, in the style of Marker’s photo-centric film. But whereas La Jetée is about post-apocalyptic futuristic time travel, Opie’s film is a kind of strange ode to the city of Los Angeles she loves so much.

We are uncertain about the ambiguous identity of the protagonist, who is played by Opie’s artist friend, Stosh, aka Pig Pen. At the beginning of the film, we watch him reading Los Angeles Times newspaper stories about fires while inside the sparse single room where he lives. Surrounded by just a few pieces of mid-century furniture and books on modern architecture, it’s clear he loves modernist aesthetics — he even makes models of iconic mid-century Los Angeles homes.

Catherine Opie, Still from The Modernist (2017)
Catherine Opie, Still from The Modernist (2017) © Catherine Opie, Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles

It comes as a surprise, then, when we discover his plan to destroy architectural monuments central to Los Angeles’s artistic and cinematic history. In the dark of the night we see him carry a can of gasoline and Swans matches into a home designed by A. Quincy Jones, which belongs to art dealer Larry Gagosian. He pours the gasoline like an action painter. Is he a real arsonist, or a performance artist?