In the Name of the Father

Which, now that I mention it, may not be beyond Alan Berliner's abilities. A glance at his multimedia installation The Language of Names, at the Walker through August 18, suggests that Berliner has a knack for running through anagrams and permutations. A look at this exhibit, which is a complement to Berliner's latest film The Sweetest Sound, will also reveal the grievous injury that could definitely lead to an Aaron Burr-Alexander Hamilton type of situation between him and me--but more on that later.

The Sweetest Sound (screening Friday, April 26) makes up the third panel of Berliner's triptych, the journey across generations having deposited the filmmaker at the street address of his own navel. "My parents probably thought of my name as their very first gift to me," Berliner says at the outset. "I see it as the very first of their decisions they would make without asking me."

What follows is a comic meditation on names and identity that reaches its apex with the filmmaker hosting a dinner party for 12 other men named Alan Berliner. A bit lighter in subject and looser-limbed in organization, The Sweetest Sound sometimes feels a little too sweet. Berliner's father died last August, and it's hard not to miss his mordant and all-encompassing skepticism (though Oscar makes a cameo). But there's a hard nugget of egotism at the center of this project that rings shamefully true. When Berliner asks a stylish, middle-aged woman named Iris, "What's wrong with sharing your name?" she nails the answer: "Well, sharing, I would think, is what's wrong with it."

Alan Berliner takes a stab at a new family of cinema with 'The Sweetest Sound'
Alan Berliner
Alan Berliner takes a stab at a new family of cinema with 'The Sweetest Sound'

In the spirit of further exploring the meaning of names, Berliner has created an original wall text at the back of the Walker lobby. There, he's drafted a 25-foot-by-8 foot list of 18,000 distinct surnames representing people who live within three miles of the museum. Burxvoort is here, and so is Baago, and Phagoo and Windschill and Quackenbush, too.

You can imagine the enthusiasm I felt, then, when I surveyed this piece for the first time, and scanned down the list for the name you see in the byline above. Which is, all modesty aside, a totally stellar one. I made my way from Torstenson to Tortice, and then to Torvik. And then I scoured the text again. And again. There was something missing--my own sweetest sound.

And so I ask you now, Alan Berliner, for the sacred honor of my patrimony and for Tortorellos yet to come: Where the hell is my family name?

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