Thoth

In documentary filmmaking, subject is everything. Thoth is the story of a 46-year-old man, who considers himself an emotional hermaphrodite, singing an opera he wrote in a language he created, while playing violin and dancing in a loincloth. As compelling as that sounds, that description is dismissive and hardly does this film justice. Needless to say, Thoth is a subject well suited to documentary.

Thoth is one of those people you see on the street. People passing by stare at him as if he’s crazy, one even calls him retarded. He’s someone who, when taken out of context, is extremely difficult to understand. Standing in Central Park in New York, clad only in a loincloth and various beads and jewelry, he looks timeless, almost unearthly. It doesn’t help that the words he sings are in a language foreign to absolutely everyone. Even his voice sounds unnatural, changing from an ethereal, soaringly operatic soprano to a frighteningly deep growl in the space of seconds. Yet when he speaks to the camera it is in perfect, unbroken English without a trace of accent.

Through the course of the film, we learn Thoth is an American by birth who refuses to define himself by any other racial term. He also doesn’t believe in division by gender, hence his openly proclaimed bisexuality and the claim of being an emotional hermaphrodite. In his mind he has created a remarkably detailed world with its own map, its own races, and its own mythology. The opera he performs in the tunnels of New York is one such story, told in the native tongue of this imaginary world.

When he performs, Thoth is possessed entirely by the music-its sounds and motions convey every emotion of the story, even while the details themselves escape us. When he speaks, it is in the calm, polite tones of one relating his life story. In fact, this calmness is one of the few flaws in the film. There seems to be a sense of detachment and a lack of emotion in the scenes between performances. Even a scene in a graveyard– which should carry a great deal of gravity–comes off almost contrived, and feels much less honest than the bulk of the film.

Thoth is fascinating. At 42 minutes, it provides barely a sketch of the man it profiles. All we get is a brief history and a short introduction to his personal philosophy, mixed in with some audience reactions and performance footage. But in documentary, subject is everything, and this is what makes Thoth worth viewing.

Part of the Art and Music on Film program, Thoth plays both Oct. 1 and Oct. 4 at 6:00 p.m. at CSIF.

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