The key element of Richard Foreman’s Once Every Day, the theater legend’s second feature in a little over three decades, is disorientation, chaos awaiting realignment. Cheesy, cheap title cards overlap and intersect digital footage of a group of actors performing random rituals and actions in various interior rooms and spaces, as the voices of their directors, of whom Foreman is merely one of four or five, bark largely incomprehensible orders at them. Non-diagetic clips, such as a young woman yelling “help me” and a young child singing a nursery rhyme, also find their way into the fold. It’s a film that seems deeply concerned with process and editing, or more accurately the ability to reshape action and time.
Despite these admirable, boldly intellectual themes, Once Every Day is also very easy to scoff at in its unerring insularity. With its blank-staring performers, rigid readings, cluttered and nonsensical auditory landscape, and total dismissal of narrative, the film relies too heavily on its uncompromising nature—and in more than a few instances, it plays like a stoic parody of commonly held stereotypes of avant-garde cinema. Whereas Foreman’s debut, the bewildering, hypnotic Strong Medicine, embraced a great deal of the same themes and concepts that the avant-gardist explored through his work as the founder of the Ontological-Hysteric Theater, Once Every Day is largely stripped of theatricality, its actors largely given tasks that call more on movement, placement, and physicality. Strong Medicine‘s stilted drama unfolded in a doomed birthday party and boasted involvement from Buck Henry and the late Raul Julia; Once Every Day‘s most remarkable moment is when a squadron of performers dash back and forth from an armoire, relay-race style, picking out various plush toys.
Shot over six days in Buffalo, NY and edited down over the last year by Foreman, Once Every Day is fascinating and discombobulating enough for its first half, but even at a scant 66-minute runtime, it feels a bit repetitive, as Foreman never further complicates his reformation(s). In fact, the crucial missing element is Foreman himself, a relative novice in filmmaking, discussing his editing choices and his own process as he reconfigures this near-impermeable work. For despite its use of performers, there’s a severe lack of a human element to a work that suggests, in its ostensible impenetrability, deeply personal origins. It’s that rare film that not only would be helped by, but also feels incomplete without, audio or visual commentary.