Antebellum Bedlam

VHS archival footage, Marla Carlson, Bob Hughes, Toyoji Tomita perform, 1985.
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More about the work

The five years 1945-1950, from V-J Day to the start of the Korean War, were among the most prosperous in American history, a few economic and political bumps notwithstanding. Americans cherished buying cars and going to ball games. Such pleasantries were tested by the first Soviet nuclear warhead in August 1949, followed a few months later by the communist conquest of China by Mao Tse-tung. North Korea, too, came under Communist rule and in 1950 invated South Korea. General MacArthur, still in Japan following the American victory, was charged with moving the North Koreans back. The communist Chinese troops backed up the North Koreans and MacArthur was forced to retreat. President Truman, fearing escalation to a third world war, refused to authorize a military response to the Chinese and North Koreans. To the American public, the Korean War was an unwelcome interruption to post WWII prosperity. To the Japanese, it threatened to shatter a fragile recovery profitting from the American success. Truman and MacArthur made public their disagreements over U.S. policy and military strategies and General MacArthur was relieved of his command in the spring of 1951.

Antebellum Bedlam takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the General in the debriefing room coping with a possible world cataclysm while surrounded by the giddiness of the American-Japanese peace. At the center of activity is the hull of an American battleship off the coast of Japan. On the foredeck and bridge, a Multi-Image “Orchestra” of multiple projectors bombard the performance space with cartoon animations and irreverent goings-on to depict a Japan that prefers American prosperity to the return to war culture. Meanwhile, the debriefing of war prisoners in the War Room leads the General toward a strategy to conquer Chinese troops in North Korea, and possibly China itself. Technical gizmos include a fleet of puppet ships sailing through air and a motorized rowboat taking a terrorist to the ship’s prow.


  • Direction, Montage: Margaret Fisher
  • Photography: Jo Ann Gillerman, Viper Optics
  • Assistant Editor: Domincia Kriz
  • Music:  Robert Hughes
  • Lighting:  Jim Quinn
  • Sets:  Jerry Carniglia, Mara Lee Corter
  • Performers:  Marla Carlson, Bob Hughes, Toyoji Tomita


  • Life on the Water Theater, Fort Mason, San Francisco, CA, May 1-2, 1987
  • Performance Video Festival, New York University, NYC, NY, May 1987
  • Northern California Women in Film Festival, San Francisco, CA, 1986
  • Mill Valley Film Festival, Videofest, 1986