The Modern Orpheus

A man attempts to come to terms with the United State's use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  • Sean Purcell
    The Vivisected Earth (Short), Rain830 (Short)
  • Sean Purcell
    The Vivisected Earth (Short), Rain830 (Short)
  • Sean Purcell
    The Vivisected Earth (Short), Rain830 (Short)
  • Sean Purcell
    Key Cast
    The Vivisected Earth (Short), Rain830 (Short)
  • Micayla Smith
    Key Cast
    The Vivisected Earth (Short)
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Experimental, Short, Student
  • Genres:
    Found Footage, Student, Essay
  • Runtime:
    7 minutes 33 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    September 30, 2016
  • Production Budget:
    2,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    Found Footage
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Online Movie Festival from Move Me Productions

    December 30, 2016
Director Biography - Sean Purcell

Sean Purcell is an experimental filmmaker specializing in found footage and abstract expressionist cinema. He has received a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, and he has received Master of Fine Arts in film and TV production from Loyola Marymount University in 2016.

Sean's work is focused on exploring cultural memory, particularly focused on American guilt. His two most recent works, "The Vivisected Earth" and "The Modern Orpheus," used found footage images to explore areas of thought ignored or overlooked by American artists. "The Vivisected Earth" addressed the guilt of the American consumer, focusing on consumption's primary moral dilemma--is it ethical for me to eat another, even if I must do so to survive. "The Modern Orpheus" addressed the forgotten cultural guilt concerning America's use of the atomic bomb in World War II.

Sean's work has been featured in the Orlando Critical Edge Film Festival, and his short film The Vivisected Earth won a Merit Award for the 2016 Awareness Festival, located in Los Angeles, California. He also won the VAPA Film Studies Award at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs in the spring of 2013.

Now based in Denver, Colorado, Sean is currently working on a series of experimental abstract expressionist films--The "Flightless Birds Project"--and will be teaching avant-garde and experimental film at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

A single issue defined the production of "The Modern Orpheus:" what is a filmmaker to do with the troubling, graphic images that the American army captured following their victory in Japan in 1945?

The project began as a meditation on atomic weapons. More focused on the effect of nuclear culture on the American psyche and framed within the American west, the project was interested in seeing America as a labyrinth, coded with a past of violence that lingered in its history that we Americans never fully addressed; however, once I had gathered my footage, primarily from the National Archives in Washington D.C., I found myself driven towards a more empathetic lens.

While I collected images, I found myself appalled by what I had unearthed. These images of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were so coldly collected. How could any ethical filmmaker agree to shoot images like these? How could anyone approach this work with such nonchalance? Once I entered the cutting phase of production, I found myself focused on trying to find a way to depict these images as they were, to depict them as a whole unobstructed truth.

The first thing that I nixed was a sense of patriotism. The historical argument for the use of the bomb in Japan was one that focused on the bomb’s need: the bloodshed of an American land invasion of Japan would be far more destructive than that of the two cities annihilated by the atomic bomb. This argument does not take into consideration the other postures given by the bomb--America’s future of imperial control over the world through and past the Cold War; its posture against and in superiority to the U.S.S.R.; and the cultural obsession toward the commercial and societal uses of the bomb in the post-war era. We Americans can be proud of our victory, but only in the Pyrrhic sense. We won the war, but at the cost of our whole selves, and the America that rose out of the war was a twisted double of the America before Pearl Harbor.

In that sense, "The Modern Orpheus" had to become a film criticizing the American use of the bomb, built from guilt, a guilt that America has never properly expressed.

The film had to be built from a pair of perspectives. The first perspective is the academic: to understand the bomb from what is shown and what is said, and to accept the perspective’s truth--the radical destruction of two entire cities. The second perspective is the emotional: to comprehend the pain of those we Americans hurt and killed, and in doing so, begin to understand the repercussions of our nation’s acts from a point of empathy.

I structured "The Modern Orpheus" to emphasize this dichotomy, splitting the film into a series of contrasts: the academic/the emotional; the male/the female; the waking/the dreaming. I stole a means of treating images from Chris Marker’s "Sans Soleil", as a way to differentiate the two realities, and the high contrast images I built both alienate the audience from what they are seeing, while at the same time forcing the film into a heightened emotional resonance, to shift the images from the documentary images into ones closer to an abstract expressionist take. In this way, I hoped to try to split the distance between the audience and their shame, their ignorance and their unwillingness to address the history upon which their privilege is built.

The final result is the first in a series of films I have made about American guilt. I cannot find any better way to address my nation of origin except to criticize it, to cut the fabric of our history and see if it bleeds.