Dinner in the alley: Marshall Granger's not-so-big night out 

Marshall Granger's A Couple Goes Out to Eat seems straightforward on the surface. The 30-minute film installation is one continuous shot of a couple ordering food at a restaurant and going through the ordinary motions of sharing a meal together. There's no drama or cleverly written dialogue. It's just the sort of scene you might observe if you were people-watching at a dining establishment in Anywhere, USA. Muffled conversation turns to silence. One person stares off toward a television screen as 1990s-era tunes play from the speakers.

"I experienced this kind of scene once at an Applebee's in the middle of Idaho," Granger says, "and I was thinking how interesting it was to watch a couple in the early evening in a restaurant like that, where it seemed like an occasion. It was both sweet and then—with the pop songs coming over the radio and their long stretches of not saying anything—I felt a twinge of something else about it: a little sadness. But then, I don't know if that was just my projection onto them."

Granger recently screened Toad to Nowhere, a film he co-directed with Andrew Rizzo in which they experience the psychedelic effects of bufo alvarius. His only other art exhibit was a 2016 performance piece in which he sang in the persona of a glamorous woman named Dorothy.

A Couple Goes Out to Eat is less film or performance art and more portrait. A verite-style presentation like this runs the risk of being boring or pretentious, or both. Fortunately, Granger took some care with the film's details to give it just enough flair and authenticity. For instance, viewers familiar with Missoula's arts scene and local politics will likely recognize the film's real-life and hardly boring couple: Hermina Harold and Jack Metcalf. Harold is a musician and local food activist, and Metcalf is a performance and visual artist who owns Real Good Art Space and recently ran for justice of the peace. Granger says he picked the two because they're happy and because they're not actors, but they still understand performance.

click to enlarge A Couple Goes out to Eat is a verite-style portrait of a couple sharing a meal together at a restaurant.
  • A Couple Goes out to Eat is a verite-style portrait of a couple sharing a meal together at a restaurant.

"So, it's not that you're watching people being sad," Granger says. "You're watching people that have a real interest in each other playing out an ordinary night. And whatever might happen on their phones or on the walls of the place might just be more interesting at the moment than each other, so I was trying to get them to have that mentality while still having their actual life together shine through."

The fictional restaurant, Jasper's, is based on chains like Applebee's, and in that spirit, Granger visited the local franchise and created a derivative menu that includes plus-size margaritas and dishes with adjectives like "slammin'" in their names.

Granger is hesitant to explain too much about the meaning behind the exhibit. The whole point of A Couple Goes Out to Eat is to let the viewer take in the everyday scene and have an organic reaction to it. The 30-minute film will loop for four hours on a wall at Frontier Space, the experimental gallery in the downtown alley between Spruce and Pine. Granger tried to make the loop seamless so that it looks like the couple never stops their endless cycle of ordering and eating, ordering and eating.

"I wanted to see how other people perceive it," Granger says. "I hope for it to be like a photograph that you can just look at and take in for as long as you feel like you need to."

A Couple Goes out to Eat shows at Frontier Space Fri., May 5, from 5 to 9 PM.

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