Anne Gomez gets quizzical portrayal in local short ‘Niblets’

NC Shorts Showcase | Saturday, May 21, 2 p.m., $5 to $7 | North Carolina Art Museum, Raleigh

The first thing you need to understand is that Anne Gomez hates corn. Hate, hate, hate, hate. In fact, it’s an understatement, like saying a vampire hates garlic, a slug hates salt. The mere presence of corn – the mere word – causes his whole body to shrivel, revulsion puckering his animated face. Corn! She really can’t stand it.

If you found this paragraph curious, wait until you see Niblets, a cunning but heartfelt short from Durham’s Douglas Vuncannon. After premiering at Shadowbox Studio in Durham last September, then at festivals far and wide, winning an award in Madrid, it is screened in a block of local shorts at the North Carolina Museum of Art on Saturday afternoon. At a well-rounded 25 minutes, it’s one of the longest of the six films screened at the NC Short Film Showcase — others in the bunch are six or nine minutes long.

Niblets offers a fragmentary portrait of Gomez, from his young life to his longtime work in the criminal defense of the indigent, but it does not attempt to be thorough and draws no simple lines from his dislike of corn for other themes. Leaving aside the cob and showing us only a few nuclei, it’s not only open to interpretation but almost defies it. It prolongs its delicious flavor, especially if you know enough about Gomez to fill in some of the gaps.

A traditional documentary would focus on Cantwell, Gomez & Jordan, the experimental Durham band in which Gomez played bass and saxophone with drummer Dave Cantwell and guitarist David Jordan. Their collisions of jerky punk and free jazz, part of an onomatopoeic lineage known as skronk rock, have 20 years of local music history twisting within.

But the only clue Niblets gives of that comes in one of its smartest edits, which cuts between Gomez playing sax and describing the textural quality of corn. Her words, it turns out, accurately describe her sound: “A bunch of little things that will get caught and squeak and move, ugh,” she says, indicating her teeth with wiggly fingers, one of which is in braces that are only more than half explained. “It’s like” creak, creak, creak. “”

Gomez grew up in Middletown, an island in Rhode Island. In high school, her first instrument was the flute, which she was terrible at.

“I really didn’t understand,” she said via video chat. “It was a bunch of little dots on paper that you’re supposed to replicate and hopefully not mess up.”

More predictive of his musical future was his friendship with Throwing Muses, a local band destined for alternative rock fame, which got him into clubs and began his immersion in punk.

“One time they handed me a hubcap and said I was a musician,” Gomez says. “I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s me dropping the hubcap in the middle of the song!'”

But it was much later, while pursuing a master’s degree in biological anthropology and anatomy at Duke, that she took up the bass, forging her own style by breaking free from notated music. “I had seen so many bands, and one thing that really struck me was that the bassist looked like he was falling asleep,” Gomez says. “With the pride that I had at 23, I was like, I can do better than that.”

She was friends with local rock resident cellist Chris Eubank, and he found her a bass and gave her some lessons. Around 1990, Todd Goss, who was putting together the seminal local indie band Blue-Green Gods, heard that she was learning and asked her to join, as that was how bands were formed back then. Next, she starred in Special Agents in the Unforgettable Name of Her Majesty’s Secret Cervical, starring Michelle Polzine and Shannon Morrow. During this time, she pivoted to law school at UNC-Chapel Hill, graduating in 1997. When Cantwell, Gomez & Jordan formed two years later, she took sax.

“I’ve always loved the tenor saxophone, especially John Coltrane,” she says. “I felt like it was an instrument where you’re more tightly tied to the sound, that you can manipulate more than the bass.”

In the 2000s, Gomez also performed in Scene of the Crime Rovers, an experimental marching band led by Morrow, which spread Chicago’s free-improv energy throughout the Triangle. It was his bridge to Vuncannon, who also played there. He had admired her stage presence in CG&J, and they became friends who usually strolled the American Tobacco Trail. “One day, about five years ago, she started talking about the obsessive hatred she had for corn,” Vuncannon recalls, “and I felt like the movie had come to me out of my mind. It’s a window into different aspects of her personality, and everyone who knows Anne agrees that she’s endlessly interesting.

With the music of a couple’s community ensemble, the best point Niblettes draws on Gomez’s aversion to corn relates to her childhood, when she took control of her diet at age 16, becoming a vegetarian (and later a lifelong vegan) against her family’s objections.

Meanwhile, the most drama comes from the inventive DIY sets, including one where, unexpectedly, Gomez’s head sticks out of a giant mound of yellow corn, with only his eyes visible, looking deceptively calm. But whether or not Vuncannon convinces her to eat the disgusting plastic cup of syrupy grains from the gas station is the closest thing Niblettes has a spoiler. It’s an appropriate place to close, with respect for a film that leaves so much room for the imagination.

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Gladys T. Hensley