Isabella Rossellini’s GREEN PORNO is a series of short films that explore, usually with her in costume, the sexual and reproductive life of animals. They are both instructive and delightful (as Horace might have said) and moving (as Cicero would have added). There is an underlying didactic intent, combined with overt theatricality, that tempts one to call the aesthetic of the films Brechtian. But GREEN PORNO is also, in the way that it endows human beings with the erotic vigor of animals, redolent of Italian Futurism. It celebrates change and reproduction and drive, and if that means spraying fish sperm in your mouth or devouring your mate’s protesting head, then so be it.

GREEN PORNO has, in any case, continued to evolve, and has mutated into a stage show, under the direction of Muriel Mayette, which is now testing its survival instincts at BAM’s experimental Fishman Space. It is essentially a lecture, with visual aids, delivered by Rossellini herself. She illustrates her subject with selections from the films, dresses up, at one point, like a hamster (whose nature it is to eat her weaker young), and uses and discards props, with amusing abandon, such that the podium stands, by the end of the lecture, like a disrespected monument surrounded by debris. The show is light and entertaining while making no bones about its didactic purpose; one learns about biology, of course, and human nature, but also about species extinction and the dangers confronting those that remain.

It is fair to say that this has its limits as art, and also that the show seems still to be finding its way. Rossellini stumbles now and then in her delivery (the lecture format makes this justifiable, in a way), and one feels that the transition to the stage has not, as of yet, been fully accomplished. All of which is forgivable and even endearing given that the show runs only an hour and a quarter and that Rossellini’s physical presence adds something meaningful to her theme. This is partly because she is one of those people who can be easily compared, if one is looking for a metaphor, to this or that animal, a cuddly rodent, perhaps, like, well, an oversized hamster. But the more salient effect of her being there is that she is, as the offspring of celebrities, an especially visible and telling instance of genetic inheritance.

A Michael Douglas, a Gwyneth Paltrow, a Liza Minnelli, a Chiara Mastroianni – or Ingrid Bergman’s daughter Isabella Rossellini – can seem to us like sharpened or refined versions of their parents, or, conversely, like distorted, even mutated, offshoots of them, in ways that our own relatives who look like each other, because we are habituated to them, may not. Rossellini talks about this at the end, comparing her looks, and what people have said about them, to those of her mother. It is a wise and personal way to bring the show to a close, but of course she is only saying what we have all been thinking anyway. I suppose that she could be criticized for anthropomorphizing animals, but she has also animalized the human, or, more pointedly, revealed the animal in the human. GREEN PORNO is a diverting and at times potent reminder that we are actively caught up in the processes of the ecosystem, and prey to its fortunes.

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