Review by Eloise Grills
How do we piece together a person who lived in fragments? In Ecco Homo, filmmakers Lynn-Maree Milburn and Richard Lowenstein confront the challenging task of coherently assembling the identities of Peter ‘Troy’ Davies, a provocative filmmaker, performance artist, drag queen and collaborator with U2 and INXS.
The filmmakers were close friends of Davies, which afforded them remarkable access to the subject. The film features firsthand interviews, extensive home video footage of Davies, and a wealth of personal and family photographs. Each chapter explores an incarnation of Davies and is framed by a quote by Voltaire, or Oscar Wilde. The latter is posited as a prototype for his outspoken flamboyance and performativity. Eerie re-creations of Davies intermingle with real video, echoing the way he blurred the boundaries between his performed personas and himself.
The talking-head interviews reveal as much about the attitude of its speakers as of Davies’s life and persona. When Davies first emerges as an adult woman known as Vanessa, friends, collaborators and siblings celebrate her as a “beautiful mythical creature”. When Davies returns to a more masculine persona, he becomes “impish”, a “court jester” in their eyes. Davies’s unstable identities are traced to childhood traumas, including incest, disclosed through family interviews that instill a profound discomfort. A brother accused of molesting Davies laughs chillingly to the camera, “I had better things to do.”
The intimacy the filmmakers shared with their subject presents certain hazards. Many contradictory hypotheses and viewpoints are offered on Davies, but with little internality and critical distance, Davies defies being unified. Other times, the film draws overt explanatory connections. We hear conjecture that his earlier trauma brought about his later deceptive personas, and informed his ability to talk his way into anything, even fame.
But Ecco Homo is insistent to the end in presenting its cacophony of voices to pin down this defiantly illusory figure. While this explicit project has problems, the film also might say something profound about our relationships to others, as witnesses, as lovers, or friends. Ecco Homo elaborates upon our yearning to uncover the mystery of a person, to say, definitively, look here: I knew him. Here is the man. And yet, sometimes, as in Davies’s case, the mystery remains.