Monday, August 31, 2015

The End of Summer

Dewy flowers; photo: Val Phoenix
Well, if this rain is anything to go by, summer seems to have departed. Before it breathed its last, it shone on my screening at Wotever DIY Film Festival last week. I have had a stressful time of it recently and wasn't fully alive to the joys of the day, but it was great to meet some enthusiastic filmgoers and see work by my fellow retrospective-ees, Barrelstout and Krissy Mahan. I think they both have more of the camp in them than me, although my next projected film is highly camp. Perhaps I have been saving it up. But, I think their work responds more to pop culture than I ever have. I seem to dredge up rather obscure elements for my films. I don't fully understand them myself!

Looking forward to September, I anticipate eagerly publication of Carol Morley's 7 Miles Out, which is billed as fiction but seems to be autobiographical, if the publicity notes are anything to go by. Anyone who's seen her doc, The Alcohol Years, knows she is not averse to putting her eventful life under the microscope, which makes me wonder why it's a work of fiction. Why not just write some memoirs? Legal reasons? Well, she is doing some readings so perhaps this will all be revealed. I had not realised that Carol's life and mine had overlapped until she commented after the Wotever screening that she had met someone who appears in one of my films. "I knew her when I was 14", she said, and I burst out laughing as I suddenly realised the connection. "Six degrees", she added. A small world indeed, especially if it involves underground music and rebellious women.

So long, summer. Wish I'd got in more blackberries, but I ate all of the ones I picked without freezing any at all.

As a memento of the season, here are some flowers I shot recently. No idea what they are, though.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

One Third of a Retrospective

Next month festivalgoers will have the chance to honour my illustrious film-making career as I receive a retrospective (!) at Wotever DIY Film Festival. Four of my films will be shown, alongside those of Barrelstout (Bev Zalcock and Sara Chambers) and Krissy Mahan on 22 August in London.

It's a curious state of affairs to be part of a three-way retrospective, but I welcome the chance to get screened in a queer setting, and to discuss DIY film-making with the other practitioners. Bev and Sara I know well, but Krissy is flying in for the occasion. Should be good stuff. I believe I will be showing: Totally Girl Powered, In Bloom, War with Love and the world premiere of The Woman from the Future.

My only concern is we are on opposite the networking session, and I'll want to get some nibbles!

Monday, June 22, 2015

ACT UP 25 memories

SF Pride 1990; photo: L.A.
While I am a great one for marking anniversaries, I almost let slip a very big one: the 25th anniversary of ACT UP protests at the Sixth International Conference on AIDS. Not that I forgot about the actions. They were my coming of age as an activist. I only joined ACT UP in the weeks leading up to the protests and was a very nervous legal observer at some of the demos during that week in June. But, I decided to put my body on the line, as it were, and join in the Women's Day Action, which was June 22, 1990, 25 years ago today.

I wrote a bit about this time in my recently completed MRes dissertation, which I quote below.

Coming out in 1989 was not about exercising personal freedom, and it certainly was not about donning the cloak of respectability to be like everyone else, join the military or get married. It meant joining a community under siege. Once I came out, I knew I had a responsibility to this community, and I was quick to join direct action groups ACT UP and then Queer Nation, seeking to do my bit. I do not think this Generation Y (or whatever they are called) necessarily has this raison d’être. As Jose Muñoz writes in Disidentifications, “The social is both a stage and a battlefield” (Muñoz 1999, p. 199). Every day we need to pick our battles carefully. And ACT UP exemplified this in its tactics. Many members of ACT UP made it their business to get arrested. One of my comrades, Peggy Sue (she described the moniker as her nom de guerre), was quite keen on it, turning her arrests into a kind of performance art. She had mastered the art of yelling as she was dragged away and was known to enjoy the process, ticking off her arrests with pride.
I was not so keen. As my particular battlefield, I chose a big one, getting arrested at the Sixth International Conference on AIDS in June, 1990. It was the women-only day, and I sat down with several hundred others at the intersection of Sixth and Market streets, thereby “blocking a public thoroughfare”, as the charge sheet described it. My friend L. was meant to stay on the side-lines and hold my glasses, but when I arrived at the jail with scores of other detainees, a police officer drew my attention to someone waving to me from an adjoining paddock, my spectacles in her hand. L. told me later she could not refrain from joining in when she saw us being arrested. My glasses were unharmed, and I was grateful to see clearly once more. During our stay in jail, we held an activist fashion show, women parading down an imaginary catwalk, hands still cuffed behind their backs. Availablism in action.
True to form, San Francisco has been marking the anniversary in fine style, with events at old haunts such as The Women's Building and Cafe Flore. I wish I'd known well in advance. But, I like to think I have joined in the reunion in spirit, if not in person.

Two days after that demo was my first Pride march, which I attended in my Women ACT UP t-shirt, protest turning to celebration, as various marches flowed into one another and we experienced the mix of emotions that comes with the cycle of life and death.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Frida

I made the briefest of visits to this exhibit at the Michael Hoppen Gallery in West London. I arrived with great expectations and left rather bemused at the minimalism of the presentation. The text on the gallery's website is far more revealing than anything in the gallery: no brochure, no captions, no supporting materials were to be seen for Ishiuchi Miyako's documentation of Frida Kahlo's personal belongings, long stored in a bathroom at the painter's home.

The photos could be similarly brushed aside, shorn of their context. But, if you do know anything of Kahlo's extraordinary life, the photos do reveal some stark realities, tenderly realised. The vivid dresses. The chic sunglasses. And the shoes. One image stuck with me, but I can find no reproduction of it: two shoes shot from behind. Bright red. And then one notices that one has a much higher heel, stacked, than the other. These were shoes that must have been custom-made for the artist, to compensate for one of her legs being shorter than the other. I stopped short and stared at this image, struck by its poignancy.

The other notable images include hammer and sickles that seem to have been hand-drawn on her corsets, often sewn into her dresses. To me, these speak of a defiance and a sense of humour: often confined to her bed, Kahlo made her mark on her immediate surroundings and dressed for the stage beyond them. Even her clothes were a canvas.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Taking Flight

A Murmuration; photo: Val Phoenix
Having attended the last day of the Brighton Festival yesterday, I left feeling very tired after a day's walking round but rather charmed by the limited offerings I attended. In truth, it was as much about a day out from London for me, but I still managed to tap into the festival theme of taking flight. Guest-curated by author Ali Smith, the festival wanted visitors to imagine themselves as birds in migration. The bird theme certainly resonated in the exhibits I visited, most notably in A Murmuration, a series of installations at ONCA Gallery. On the ground floor, visitors tucked themselves into a hide and watched videos discussing Second World War surveillance of seabirds. Moving downstairs to the basement, I found myself in an extraordinary crypt- or bunker-like structure arranged with sound recordings. Quite atmospheric. One could also check out artists' archives of notes and slides in an upstairs area.

Across the road was the Agnes Varda installation, Beaches Beaches, which certainly tied in with Brighton's seaside location, if not so much with the avian theme. Varda's array of brightly coloured plastic objects stuck to the wall created a rather camp feel, not so much in keeping with her very serious film footage. The hut in which this played was so crammed with visitors, I couldn't get in, but found myself peeping through a gap in the curtain. Photos adorned the walls, though I was not so sure of the connection of the different elements.

Around the corner in Circus Street was the highpoint of my visit, the multimedia immersive installation, Gauge. Themed around water rather than birds, it was fun, atmospheric and rather thrilling, as I picked my way around a dilapidated indoor market dotted with curious contraptions and enthusiastic visitors--a playground for all ages, I thought. Each gadget was hooked up to microphones, so that visitors' engagements were played out through the speakers, creating an ever-changing soundscape. I got my hands dirty in some mud, just so that I could faintly make out the swishing sounds of the water. A cascade of water suddenly dropped onto a piano, startling everyone in the vicinity. Finding no keyboard on the piano, I plucked on the strings, and was joined by a little boy who tried his hand at making some sounds, as well. An impromptu duet. Steam issued from a small pool and people tried running round it in unison to make a tornado. I wanted to move in there, but left to wander along the beach and enjoy some quiet time before making my way home in the evening, sadly missing out on the enticingly-titled Fleeting, a performance on the beach involving lights and birds.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Falling

Just out in the UK is Carol Morley's swooning girls drama, The Falling, which I referred to previously.

Here is an interview she did with Radcliffe and Maconie discussing the film. For some reason it won't embed.

But, I have been able to embed some of Tracey Thorn's music for the film.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Flare: Mood Swings

Broken Gardenias
Today's report concentrates on two films that combine comedy and drama, making for uneasy viewing.

In the Australian comic drama (?) Zoe. Misplaced, Zoe is attracted to her housemate Coal's ex, Nat, who reciprocates her feelings. And then Coal finds out.... What starts off as an amusing L Word episode progresses onto darker and darker territory, until it turns into a bit of a psychology lesson. I puzzled over the abrupt shifts in tone, wondering whether they worked or not. Then I pondered the characters' motivations and questioned whether I had missed some key hints. So, I guess it's a pretty effective piece of work, if duplicitous.

Broken Gardenias, an American road movie, looks great, with sweeping vistas of California, as its two loners, hunky butch Sam and forlorn Jenni, go to L.A., in search of the latter's father. A film that includes a suicide attempt early on that is played as one of a number of comic setbacks has an interesting notion of comedy. And I never quite warmed to it, despite Sam and Jenni's quirky budding friendship. It reminded me a little of By Hook Or By Crook, with Jenni's very mannered fragility setting my teeth on edge. Plus, the running joke of her ex-housemates shadowing the duo through L.A., arguing all the way, felt forced and gratuitous. Jenni is played by the film's screenwriter, so she must have felt highly invested in the story.


I believe both films were crowd-sourced, explaining their rough and ready feel, but getting the tone right is something that can really make or break a film, regardless of budget.