ANIMAL’s feature Artist’s Notebook asks artists to show us their original “idea sketch” next to a finished artwork or project. This week, multi-disciplinary artist Rachel Mason discusses the making of her film work “The Lives Of Hamilton Fish.” Mason’s practice over the years has included sculpture, video and music. This particular piece brings all of her practice together for an ambitious motion picture opera.

The Lives of Hamilton Fish is a feature film whose story is told entirely in songs. The songs are based on a coincidence I discovered in a real newspaper that was dated January 15, 1936. Two men named Hamilton Fish were pronounced dead on a single front page of The Peekskill Evening Star News. One was a statesman, the other a serial killer of children.

I often feel compelled to write songs and to step inside the minds of other people. The characters in The Lives of Hamilton Fish just started to appear in my mind and songs began to hit me. In past projects I’ve imagined myself being political leaders like Saddam Hussein, or Deng Xiaopeng. I have two albums of songs written from the point of view of political leaders as well as a body of sculpture.

The set of documents below includes drawings and notes from sketchbooks devoted to the project and song revisions.

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In addition, when I write music and perform with my band I tend to think in terms of mini-operas and create narratives which sometimes meld all of the songs together into a show which tells a story. So this project is really my most complete manifestation of my desire to tell a story through song and image.

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Over the course of nearly a decade I imagined how these two men might have met and wove together an imaginary story which took me along a journey into places including Sing Sing Prison and The American Society of Psychical Research.

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It also lead to personal encounters with fascinating individuals such as correspondence with a man convicted of killing a child, the living descendant of the statesman Hamilton Fish, and the authors of numerous books about the various people in the story.

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After research and planning I finished a complete script an annotated page can be seen below.

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Below you can see some behind-the-scenes photos from the actual shooting of the film.

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The film has only been shown a few times in festivals and in small spaces but will have its first larger public screenings in 2015. The album will also be released this year.

RACHEL MASON, THE LIVES OF HAMILTON FISH (2014)

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