The Aesthete

The Intuitionist

Musician and performance artist Terence Nance creates a stir with his unconventional debut film, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

by Grace Bello photography Thea Goldberg

Terence Nance isn’t a filmmaker; he’s an artist who makes films. The 30-year-old Dallas-born, Brooklyn-based auteur just got back from Los Angeles where his feature film An Oversimplification of Her Beauty premiered at the Downtown Independent. Prior to that, it was shown at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, played at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in April, and appeared in over three-dozen film festivals. Not bad for someone who never went to film school.

“I had no idea how to write a movie screenplay—I had never even read one at the time. My most comfortable creative space is making music and performing."

“I had no idea how to write a movie screenplay—I had never even read one at the time,” says Nance while sitting on his stoop in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Thanks to his father, a musician and photographer, and his mother, an actress, he says, "My most comfortable creative space is making music and performing."

Nance, who earned his MFA at NYU, wrote, directed and starred in An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, a Brooklyn-based story that examines the would-be romance between him and his friend and creative collaborator Namik Minter. But unlike a typical romantic comedy with a linear narrative, he wrote the film in a form that was more familiar to him—in the structure of a song with a chorus and several verses.

The inventive, multimedia verses bring to mind Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep, as Nance uses watercolor, collage, stop-motion animation and other media to explore the story of his elusive romantic relationship. These techniques speak not only to Nance’s background as a trained fine artist, but also to the multitudes contained in the film’s characters and their ambivalent feelings for each other.

As for the chorus, he wrote it in one night: The scene shows Nance calling Minter because they were supposed to meet up but didn’t. "It was direct in this way that, hopefully, was unnerving,” Nance explains. “No filtration through metaphor, allegory or symbol."

“The movie is a lot about ambiguity, and it uses a romantically ambiguous situation as an allegory for a more general, all-encompassing ambiguity that, at the time, I felt kind of plagued by.”

Richly imagined and deeply felt, the film was originally intended just for Minter: “A movie made for an audience of one.” Instead, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is an intricate love letter to Minter that, rather than sparking a romance, has ignited Nance’s career.

Though the film is intensely personal, it was by no means a solo effort. The hard work of producer James Bartlett brought the film to the attention of veteran hip-hop writer Dream Hampton, The Daily Show’s Wyatt Cenac and Jay-Z, who are all executive producers on the movie and helped with fundraising and promotion.

The artist also credits Brooklyn, where he has lived on and off since 2007, for inspiring him. He calls his local community the Swarm: eclectic, creative, culturally and socially conscious people of color and allies who are, like himself, postgrads originally from elsewhere.

“The movie is a lot about ambiguity, and it uses a romantically ambiguous situation as an allegory for a more general, all-encompassing ambiguity that, at the time, I felt kind of plagued by.”

Does he ever worry that he’ll have to leave his community because it’s too expensive to live here? “It already is too expensive,” he says. “My view of money is, money is like water.” He glances to his right toward a new condo that recently sprang up and where one unit rents for $4,000 per month. “Some woman put a sign outside her window that said, ‘If you hang out outside of my window, I will release my pit bull on you.’ Clearly, she doesn’t understand the culture of the neighborhood,” he laughs.

And, as clearly, Nance is not interested in becoming the next big Hollywood director. Currently, he’s working on films with a broader scope but that still aren’t outright commercial projects. One, called The Lobbyist, tells the story of a con man and an ex-CIA agent who blackmail politicians into voting for progressive legislation. The other is a documentary on skin-whitening creams across the globe.

Through more collaborative work with Minter, Bartlett, artist and researcher Chanelle Pearson and support from the Swarm, he’s happy to continue on a more unusual path as an artist and filmmaker—not unlike Steve McQueen or Miranda July. “I don’t think about who I am really,” he says, peering down the row of brownstones. “It’s more just, ‘What am I making today?’”