In 2018, when every single day spent as a cognizant human being who is aware of the world around them feels like an existential nightmare-cum-fever dream, what better thing to do than attend Milwaukee’s 3rd annual Diorama-rama?
So here we are at a very fogged-up Anodyne Coffee on Bruce St. (diorama-enthusiasts really know how to show up on a Tuesday night). Billed as “A BUNCH OF WAY COOL DIORAMAS ! A GAGGLE OF RADICAL DIORAMISTS !” on the event page, my expectations were in a state of all caps anticipation.
Sidenote: Milwaukee has deep historical ties to the diorama. In fact, the art of the diorama and its use in museums originated here in the late 1800s at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Carl Akeley’s groundbreaking 1890 muskrat diorama can still be seen at MPM. With recent news of MPM’s search for a new location, they better not fuck with that venerable muskrat.
Back to the rama at hand. The theme for this year’s event was “Magical Movie Moments-Cinema of the 70’s,” which got me psyched because that theme does not suck. I learned from the event’s organizer and National Diorama Month founder, Danelle (D) Kirschling, that the rama-rules are intentionally lax to give participants more creative freedom. The only guidelines are dioramas must be able to fit through the door and should be at least tangentially related to the theme (shout out to the dioramaist who depicted herself watching Jaws as a child hiding under a movie seat, popcorn toppled and abandoned. That was cute.).
“Prom Night by Kasper,” a Carrie themed diorama with blood pouring over the heroine’s prom dress in a self-contained gory loop was well executed and made for a great Boomerang. Miloš Forman’s 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was paid tribute by a dioramist who rendered the botched escape attempt scene where Chief throws a hydrotherapy cart out of the psychiatric hospital's window. The miniature cart lying on fake grass was both cute and poignant.
Dario Argento’s landmark 1977 Italian horror film Suspiria was the subject of two especially inventive dioramas that explored the film’s pioneering use of wildly saturated color to psychedelic effect. One took a clever keyhole approach, inviting viewers to peer into the jewel-toned stained glass interior. The other, titled “Crazy Awesome Murder Death Scene” detailed the yes, crazyawesomemurderdeathscene that opens Suspiria with an impressive attention to detail.
There were at least 3 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory dioramas, one of which I witnessed being probed by an older woman sticking her finger into the chocolate moat only to discover that it was indeed real.
My personal favorite diorama was an ode to John Water’s 1972 filth cult classic Pink Flamingos, created by the mysterious “Anonymous.” Something about the simplicity of the diorama’s title (“Pink Flamingos”) plus the anonymity of its creator really did it for me.
The diorama depicted the film’s unforgettable closing scene: an iconic and dry heave inducing shot of Divine eating freshly defecated dog feces.
Maybe it just felt right for 2018.