Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Flare: A Woman of Words

I've had things going on, so haven't spent as much time at Flare as I would like, but I hope this will be the first of a flurry of reviews from the LGBT film festival in London.

To start with, there is Welcome to This House, which I prioritised because: 1) it's about Elizabeth Bishop and 2) it's made by Barbara Hammer. Well, what a coupling, eh? And it starts off well enough with Hammer nosing about (she remains off-camera, save one reflection) in Bishop's childhood home in Nova Scotia. As one interviewee makes clear, the poet was someone who never found home. And that's the premise: Bishop's various living places and her relationship to them, taking Hammer on a journey from Canada to Brazil and various places in the USA.

In part, it works, as Hammer can focus her camera on small details in each house, from furniture Bishop purchased to things she had on her wall, recounted by a range of interviewees who are not particularly well introduced. I found myself stopping the film to Google various folk to understand why they were picked (possible as I watched it in online form!). Thus, the running time jumped from 79 mins to almost double that, as I found myself increasingly frustrated at the storyline emerging. How did Elizabeth end up in Nova Scotia? How long was she in Seattle? Why wasn't there a stop in New York?

It's described as an "impressionistic" documentary, which gives Hammer licence to skip around and her focus is clearly on Bishop's love life as much as her homes, which is a refreshing counter-balance to earlier biographies of her which completely ignored her queerness. What a writer! There is a generous serving of her writing, both her poems, as wel as excerpts from letters and journal entries. But, far from featuring interviews with former lovers as the accompanying notes claim, the interviews are with academics, a few male former students and a housekeeper. Unless I missed something, no lovers. Perhaps they are no longer with us. But, it does rather reek of tittle-tattle. In the end, I found it a bit unsatisfying. What emerged was a fascinating woman not quite given her due.

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