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the final countdown!

So, having just graduated from college, the big question I’ve been getting is:

“What’s next?”

This is what’s next: the five of us, dreaming the shared dream of making a movie.         From left to right: Kaitlin, Edee, Sam D, ME, Baby Jack.

Well, among other things, my immediate future consists of making THIS low-budget first indie feature with my close friend Sam D, and our fellow CAMS majors Jack, Kaitlin and Edee.  We don’t start shooting in Northfield until August, but pre-production is starting to consume my life in that good-busy-oh-my-god-this-is-actually-happening sort of way.  I’ll be posting my thoughts, frustrations, and sundry other reactions to and musings on the filmmaking process here, and on our project blog, which I am currently in the process of setting up — links shall be forthcoming!

In the meantime, if you want to watch a super cute video of us asking for money, check out our Kickstarter — we just reached our funding goal, but to be totally honest, the $5000 we were asking for only covers a portion of what we really need to make shooting the movie happen, let alone post-production, and of course, submitting this gem of an indie flick to Sundance.  (I need to get back to my breeding grounds of Park City somehow…)

So if you’re interested in supporting us — THERE ARE THREE DAYS LEFT!!!  As the little banner on our Kickstarter page declares: “THIS PROJECT WILL BE FUNDED ON SUNDAY JUN 24, 12:02PM CDT.”  That being said, if you’d like to send us a check directly, that still helps (and maybe helps even more!) since then Kickstarter takes no cut from that donation (and we’ll still give you perks, like DVDs and posters!).  But whatever way anyone wants to support us, we’re so grateful for the assistance — and for all the support we’ve already received thus far; it’s been so heartening and thrilling to see 102 (!) get behind us financially, let alone the many, many friends and family who are giving us housing, food, moral support, and plain old encouragement.  These are the things we dream of, literally, in this immediate post-grad moment of our collective lives.

Speaking of non-monetary forms of support, we’ll also soon be updating our new blog and Facebook pages with other exciting ways for you to help out!  I’m just getting cracking on props, costumes, and other art department things, and we’ve still got some locations to nail down, which are all things that we would love to turn to our community of supporters as we prepare to have the best mise-en-scene (lighting, costumes, set, props, fun stuff!) that we can possibly pull together.  And of course, if anyone wants to get involved, please please please email us at — we can undoubtedly find a variety of ways for you to contribute your efforts, which we appreciate so much!

spot the difference: a tale of two trailers

*Written as part of the Juxtaposition Blogathon at Pussy Goes Grrr!*

I’m going to be a bit of a maverick here, and compare two movies that I have never seen.  Or rather: I am going to give way to a juxtaposition of one aspect of the film industry that was made intriguingly obvious to me at several points over the summer.

Living in Brooklyn, I went to quite a number of screenings at BAM Rose Cinemas; we’re talking Midnight in Paris, Tree of Life, Another Earth, Amigo, John Turturro’s Passione…  When you go to a lot of screenings at the same small-ish art-house-ish theatre, you start to see the same trailers over and over again in the hushed dim of the pre-feature cinema.  I saw the trailer for The Debt half a dozen times, I’m sure, and the one for Contagion a few times as well.  But almost invariably, the previews for two new films, Pariah and Gun Hill Road, played, and almost invariably, they played back-to-back.  It would probably require possessing the faculties of a lump of concrete in order to fail to notice the connections between the two — the first time I saw them, I wondered (and still do) whether BAM had programed the trailer order as such on purpose.

If you watch the two above, in the same order that I usually did, and the parallels immediately become obvious: each is a drama set in New York City that centers on the conflicts within an ethnic families where the coming-of-age trajectory of one child is failing to adhere to standards of gender and sexuality within their respective cultural communities.  The first time you see them together like that, it’s hard not to think — I just saw two different trailers for essentially the same movie.  I’ve done a little extra-textual reading about the films, but for the purposes of this comparison, I want to stick with what we get in the roughly two minutes of each trailer, alone, because in a Surrealistic way, that was the manner in which the sewing machine and umbrella were placed on the operating table before me.  Beyond this, the way that movies are presented or marketed, especially ones about similarly highly-charged subject matter, speaks very directly to the politics and discourses surrounding the way we are approaching the media itself and the content of that media.

In Pariah, we see Alike, a high school-aged African American girl living in Brooklyn (surmised from the look of the bus she is riding as the trailer opens, confirmed by the Focus Features website about the film…), a budding poet and a lesbian whose discovery of her sexuality brings her into conflict with her parents.  In Gun Hill Road, we see Michael, a high school-aged Latino boy (?) living in the Bronx (Z train! …could technically be Brooklyn, but this is also confirmed online and fits with some of the typical ideas of where certain ethnicities have tended to settle within the Five Boroughs…), a dancer in a club and a trans-(something — we, like Michael’s potential hook-up, miss exactly what he says) whose assertion of his womanhood brings him into conflict with his parents.  At core, two films of the Other within the Other, the sexual minority within the racial minority, further facing generational opposition and struggling for what makes one a self.

Beyond these broader thematic similarities, a few other aspects strike me in particular.  The structure of each trailer turns on a sort of revelatory early dinner conversation in each family, where one parent asks their child about going to a certain event that is tied through cultural construction to ‘correct’ gender presentation, Alike’s mother nagging her about who she is going with to homecoming and Michael’s father asking him why he doesn’t want to go to a baseball game with him.  Both Alike and Michael reject these suggestions with a declaration of their desire not to go, creating within the arc of each trailer a genesis of conflict, or at least the revelation of the already brewing oppositional forces within each film.  The choice to represent this in both with a dinner conversation, allows the center of the ethnic family, the domestic space, to be interrupted with each sudden tension over traditional gender-normative activities.

Each trailer is also strung together with shots of transformations in each young person’s appearance — we first see Alike riding a bus, removing a doo-rag and other masculine garments, presumably in preparation to return home, and later her mother laments the fact that Alike never wants to wear what her mother has selected for her, as she stands before her parents in a pink cardigan, looking ready to die and pleading “This isn’t me.”  In any number of mirror shots, Michael applies make-up and does his hair, puts on dresses and skirts, as his father asks about sports and whether he likes school, later to be confronted for his failed masculinity.

Each trailer is also structured to lead up to a moment of violence, a miniature climax within the two-minute presentation of the film — in Gun Hill Road, Michael’s father brutally cuts off his son’s gorgeous locks, and in Pariah, a shouting match between Alike’s parents is followed by a cut to her flying out of her home, kicking garbage cans and releasing her anger and frustration.

While the parallels (including the metaphorical loneliness and isolation of late-night NYC public transportation) abound, the distinctions may be most telling — the primary conflict in each film seems to rest between the parent and child of the same (biological) gender, while the other parent, Alike’s father or Michael’s mother, seems more a tenuous but weakened ally to their child, the parent who can escape from taking their child’s gender ‘failure’ as a personal affront to their own self.  As Michael’s father tells his friend, it’s not Michael’s life, it’s his — each trailer reveals a strong thematic concern with the relationship between a parent and the child they want to teach to be like them, to craft in their own image.  Which makes it all the harder, of course, when these children are coming of age only to find that they cannot craft themselves into the very images that society and their respective parents would have for them.

The absence of specific words about gender and sexuality is itself conspicuous — we never hear the word lesbian, and Michael’s one moment of naming his self as trans must be translated (or only so through a failed translation) by another who doesn’t hear and consequently does not fully repeat the title Michael has given himself.  In both trailers, the term “man” is heard, repeatedly (and more so than “woman”) — in Pariah, Alike’s mother screams “Your daughter is turning into a damn man!” at her husband, and in Gun Hill Road, Michael’s father confronts him by saying “Talk to me like a man!  I didn’t raise you to be like that”.  Are these films primarily concerned with the struggles of their young protagonists, or do they deal more broadly with the anxieties of masculinity in these strongly gendered ethnic communities?

I think this is where the themes and plotlines of the two pieces begin to part ways — while Gun Hill Road (or at least its trailer…) privileges the character of the father, and his relationship with his son and his son’s sexuality and gender identity, Pariah is really about Alike.  We see this in something as simple and obvious as who we see first, and whose voice we hear first: Alike appears, and we hear her reading her poetry, and we see and hear Michael’s father speaking to his parole officer before we ever see Michael himself.  And the moment of violence that creates each trailer’s climax is similarly acted by these character focal points, Alike and Michael’s father.

So when we begin to tease apart these two seemingly equatable dramas, I think we discover that they are in fact about very different facets of the same complicated world of gender, sexuality, race, and class.  Gun Hill Road is clearly a meditation on machismo, but is Pariah about being female (and lesbian), or does it simply echo the concerns about masculinity that exist in the other trailer?  Does Alike seem to be a more central and stronger character because she, as a lesbian, is shifting along a spectrum from that which is feminized to that which is masculine (while Michael clearly shifts in the opposite direction)?  (I realize that sexual orientation and gender identity are not the same thing, and are distinct facets of an individual, but the film seems to be working within a framework that attaches masculine presentation with at least Alike’s own brand of lesbianism.)  That is — even in the consideration of two films that clearly give voice to the stories of young sexual Others in the 21st century, a democratic and socially just and plain-old compelling set of stories, are we not perhaps faced with some proof of this tricky, tricky embedded privileging of that which is male as strong, that which is female as weak?

The answers to these questions will undoubtedly find the seeds of their answers in the ultimate actual viewing of the full films, which I look forward to doing come winter, when Pariah is released (and when I can finally see Gun Hill Road, since Northfield is devoid of independent cinemas) — perhaps even juxtaposed, back to back, just like their trailers.

change is hard, except when it’s GREAT

As I have mentioned, I am now back at the lovely (yet irritatingly cold!) Carleton College, and as classes began on Monday, I entered this week thinking I knew exactly what shape my academics would take for the term: Film History I, Cinema Studies Topics Seminar (aka Film Theory), Graphic Design, and Working with Gender, a history/women’s-and-gender-studies course on the history/gender politics of labor in the U.S.  But on Wednesday, on my way to leading a discussion of Eisenstein’s Beyond the Shot in my theory seminar, I was reminded by some fellow CAMS majors that the Nonfiction I production course exists.  My reaction: how on EARTH did I forget/overlook/muddle-headedly ignore what is probably the most appropriate class of all classes EVER for me, the aspiring theory-headed-feminist-experimentalist-documentarist???  The only issue was that Nonfiction shares the same class time as Working with Gender, and I was kind of loathe to take four CAMS classes in a term (also known as overloading here at Carleton, a prospect that was beginning to seem less appealing by the day).  After some serious pondering/discussion/inspirational discovery that I might know what my comps will actually be, I decided to drop Working with Gender (and Graphic Design, for good measure) for Nonfiction.  Phew.  It was a crazy day.  (This was Wednesday.)

And after yesterday, I am convinced it is the best decision I have made in years.

What I love about Carleton CAMS is the attempt to marry theory and practice, as someone who is themselves constantly torn between the fascination and appeal of both areas of the discipline.  So even in a production class we have readings and screenings and incredibly engaging discussions, and in this class in particular, our new and wonderful visiting professor, Laska Jimsen, seems already to be facilitating such a bridging of production and contemplation in a way that is totally exciting to me.  Our first assignment is a 60-second non-sync audio/visual portrait of ourselves, so in yesterday’s class, we touched on the good, the bad, and the ugly potential roles that social media plays in our lives.  (Which makes me mildly self-conscious about blogging regarding the discussion, since we were working from an article that totally eschewed the theoretically life-sucking qualities of ‘teh internetz’…)  Then, working from the first major reading, we traced the historical trajectory/roots of the connections between autobiography and documentary, from the avant-garde of Brakhage/Conner/Mekas/all the guys who were kicking around at my recent place of employment, Anthology Film Archives, to the mid-century reactionism against ethnographic and Otherizing documentary that maintained pretenses of objectivity and non-interventions, to the self-reflexivity of the European cinema of Godard and the rest of the French New Wave.  And  then we watched some Brakhage (The Stars Are Beautiful).


On top of all that, we got to watch Sherman’s March about an hour and a half later, in the brand new Weitz Cinema!  I’ve been meaning to watch this Ross McElwee film for quite some time; you know you are in the right class when the first screening is something incredibly high on your Netflix queue.

guerrilla girls on tour

Part of being in New York is facing an almost over-bowling (as in, it bowls one over) range of opportunities to see and experience THE ARTS.  Film, theatre, opera, music, ballet, museums and galleries, street performance, festivals, etc. etc. etc. — and much of it is free (or cheap) if you know where to look and when to go.  One of the great offerings at the Lincoln Center are Target Free Thursdays, where every Thursday (surprise surprise!) at 8:30, musical/theatrical/cultural performances take place in the Atrium, free and open to the public.

This past Thursday evening, I was lucky enough to get a front row seat for a performance by the Guerrilla Girls on Tour, a NYC-based theatrical-comic-feminist-activist troupe.  (Go ahead, shudder at the F-word — this is a topic that they address in their performances, actually.)  The Guerrilla Girls (the umbrella group, which split from the Touring group about a decade ago) began in 1985 in response to what they saw as a blatantly sexist “retrospective” at The Met of painting and art from across the world, which included only 13 women among its 169 (white) featured artists.  They saw this proof of the inequality of the art world as symptomatic of greater discrimination that could be addressed by the very means of this field in which they were being, as a collective, shunted aside — the arts.  They began with mostly print and visual media, such as this poster, which is probably one of their most well-known early works (at least it’s the one that seems to make it into every text book on visuality and culture jamming that I’ve ever read):

Like the word 'feminism', the classically male-viewer-oriented symbol of the odalisque is here re-appropriated by Guerrilla Girls.

Anyway, I’ve read a number of authors’ eloquent waxings on this specimen of visual culture, and even seen some of their graphic and sculptural work in person at MACBA this past spring, and fancy myself, yes, a feminist, so I was totally stoked at the chance to see the live theatrical faction for myself.

The performance was fairly in-your-face, a touch sloppy, but powerfully sincere and well-received by the crowd that packed the Lincoln Center Atrium.  Yes, the occasional missteps and dropped lines, the sort of forced frivolity, the we’re-laughing-because-we’re-actually-uncomfortable-because-everything-we’re-saying-is-unfortunately-true might have fallen short, but for a moment about two-thirds of the way through the program.  After jokingly declaring Michelle Obama’s biceps as the greatest symbol today of America’s strength, and then genuinely congratulating Obama on her active role as First Lady, the Guerrilla Girls added their ‘yes, but’ to that statement: taking issue with Obama’s use of the phrase ‘anti-obesity’ in her campaign with Beyonce.

A shift in the performance: the four actresses came forward before individual microphones, and read in counter-point four stories that collectively created a plea for acceptance of all women’s bodies, no matter their size or the state of their skin or anything else that is really so far off from the essence of their personhood, a thing to which we all have an immense right.  In a style that echoed strongly that of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, the stories built on one another, becoming an incessant vocal recreation of this, their latest poster, which was projected behind them on a giant screen:

"Diminish and fade."

It ended, in unison: “I think someone wants me to disappear.”

How suddenly sobering.  Among a deluge of less-than-subtle comedy and theatrical gags (it was sandwiched between respective parodies of Beyonce and Lady Gaga), this moment was all the more striking.  Not that issues of body sovereignty are solely feminist domain, or that among the topics that feminism seeks to address, such issues are the “MOST IMPORTANT” — but they exist, and the presentation of them, in its visuality in particular, affected me, and was simply effective.  The poster design reveals an increasing sophistication in their graphic approach (which is echoed across other recent graphic work), and the invocation of the Vagina Monologues‘ visual and verbal format worked incredibly well to break through the funny and become, in an instant, serious.

And as a girl growing up in this society, I know that these aspects of visual culture require this kind of address — I spend so much of my time thinking abstractly or intellectually about the visual aspects of our society, but more and more I wonder where theory becomes too much and lived experience must speak.  Visual culture is not just art, not just beautiful films or the depth of a Rothko color field.  Visual culture is not just Justin Bieber and what he chooses to wear, or the interesting but obvious proliferation of Facebook and its affect of how we operate the increasingly ubiquitous camera.  At some point, visual culture must also encompass the crushing pressure of self-presentation, particularly on women, but really on all people in this increasingly mediated and visual society.  I’m beginning to realize that ‘practices of looking’ includes ‘practices of appearing’.  And maybe art itself can interrogate and rip apart these inconsistencies, deconstruct these aporia — at least, the Guerrilla Girls can.

weekly update (like snl, but on thursdays)

Ten days have elapsed since my last blog post, but they have been far from uneventful.  In the course of a rather ambitious psychogeographic expedition, I had the opportunity to became intimately acquainted with both the former sites of the Berlin Wall and the German health care system.  I saw Robert Beavers and P. Adams Sitney go head-t0-head, as it were, at the Arsenal Cinema screening of four of Beavers’ films, in a slightly tense but fascinating juxtaposition of the critic and the artist, and had the immense pleasure of seeing the entire first reel of Early Monthly Segments for the second time in the space of a few days — there is truly something to be said for repeated viewing, especially when it comes to avant-garde cinema.

The following day, I returned to Robert and Ute’s to spend a wonderful, inspiring, and thoroughly enjoyable several hours discussing film, Japan, and life, watching Ute’s latest cut of her film Young Pines (working title), cooking a delicious dinner of salad, potatoes, white wine, and white asparagus (I’ve never had it in the states…so good!!).  I often feel that as a student, there is a sort of impenetrable veil between my status as a student and the ‘real world’ of working artists and publishing scholars and people who are not in a strange transitionary phase between child and adulthood that we call college.  But spending that evening with Robert and Ute felt like that wall was shattering (how appropriate, in Berlin…) — being engaged as, if not a peer exactly, at least a fellow member of this small but dedicated community of people who care about experimental cinema and unique critical and aesthetic ways of approaching the world, as an initiate into part of the world of artists and thinkers that I intend to live my life among.

Since my last entry, I have also survived a psychogeographical experiment in wakefulness lasting 41 hours and producing several pages of automatic text and roughly 700 similarly ‘automatic’ photographs, I have survived the trip to Copenhagen (where we are now comfortably situated for the remaining week of our European adventure), I have survived The Rapture (although not without the intriguing appearance of bleeding holes in both of my palms…), and I have survived my very first real interview, with John Mhiripiri, the director of Anthology Film Archiveswhere I will be working as an intern this summer!

All this is to say, it’s been quite the week or so, on top which is of course the release of the newest Lady Gaga album, Born This Way, which I have listened to approximately 37 times already, in its entirety, and follows nicely on the iPodic heels of the audiobook I just finished last Wednesday, Tina Fey’s Bossypants (both of which are, as aural texts, seminal to the current debates that compromise quasi-4th-wave feminism, and on which I would love to expound in a later post…).  Clearly, my brain is swimming in critical and artistic commentaries and revelations and epiphanies, some of which will hopefully be shared on this forum for thought, but in the mean time, I am also swimming in media projects, the least of which is a massive-ish personal book of photography, theory, and musings from these ten weeks in Europe, which I am theming around the word and concept ‘traces’ (nod here to Derrida, of course).  It will, handily enough, have an online incarnation, so look forward to that in the near future (this is NOT an empty promise — I’m working with a deadline!!), but in the mean time, forgive me in advance for another probable lapse in blogging, and certainly let me know which of the many fascinating recent events of my visually cultured experiences you want to hear about at greater length!

Now to charrette — as John Schott always says, ‘ANDIAMO!’

the philosophy of opening one’s eyes

Welcome to the first post of The Semioptician – an online exploration of visual culture in all its ever-multiplying and breeding incarnations.  If the medium is the message, this blog is a process of beginning to decode it.  Expect words, images, sounds, art, free-verse, essays, mash-ups, haiku, modernism, post-modernism, post-post-modernism, deconstruction, reconstruction, visual anthropology, ontology, tautology, epistemology, pragmatism, impracticality, observations, invitations, musings, perusings, confusings…  Sometimes I will entertain the lovechild of those recently-met bedfellows academia and pop culture, as beautiful, surreal, and (hopefully) illuminating as Lautreamont’s sewing machine and umbrella side by side on that fabled dissecting table.  Sometimes I will be entertained – hopefully you will be as well.  Seeing is not necessarily believing, and believing may not always require seeing, but this blog will plunge into the visuality of the 21st century with eyes wide open, blind in neither sight nor thought.