Sunday, February 24, 2019

Colette: the writer's life

Having just seen Colette, the biopic of the French writer starring Keira Knightley, I found myself pondering the quite complex relationship depicted between her and her first husband, the rogue about town called Willy. As the film unspooled and Willy offered her feedback on and revised her writing, I thought to myself: "Willy is a great editor. He is really good at shaping and refining other people's work." Where he went wrong, of course, was in denying other people's talent and claiming their work for his own. Bad Willy.

Denise Gough as Missy and Keira Knightley as Colette
 In the film, Colette struggles to throw off his control while thriving under his command. Even her mother suggests she rid herself of him and write under her own name but she declines to do this for quite some time. Is she that insecure or does she draw some strength from what seems quite the toxic relationship? He presents himself as her husband and headmaster but cannot see her as an equal or even a creator. Such is his delusion. If he had just been content to be an editor or even an agent, theirs would have been quite the partnership.

Colette is a curious film in that it depicts the early life of a great female figure, while offering a standout role for a man. Willy is wily, controlling, charismatic, louche and loud, and Dominic West is a hoot in the part. As Colette, Keira Knightley offers only a hint of the writer's inner journey, while displaying her usual charm and affable blankness.

Kudos to the film for not shying away from Colette's bisexuality and giving due weight to her affairs and predilection for cross-dressing. It seems admirably contemporary, right down to her calling her AFAB lover Missy "he" as their relationship develops. The two scandalised Paris by kissing onstage at the Moulin Rouge, a memorable scene in the film, and Missy asks some very pointed questions of Colette, offering her quiet support and never trying to dominate her, unlike Willy. The ideal partner in many ways. Sadly, the film ends before the two set up house together. A sequel is surely warranted.

I saw the film at Genesis Cinema as part of its regular Write Along With monthly series, in which films about writing are shown and the audience is invited to stay afterward to do some writing. It's a great idea and while I have yet to produce anything decent, I do enjoy having a go while sipping some tea and gazing into the middle distance, as you do. For something so solitary, it's great to have the odd collective activity.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

DIY Life

It's been quite awhile since I posted as I have been busy making my film, Lactasia, which has been quite the process. We completed shooting in January after a four-year journey from script to shoot. There will be the best part of another year editing and getting it ready for the festival circuit, but things are much less hectic. I am looking forward to taking a bit of a back seat now and letting other people take the lead.

I have, however, had some thoughts on how it went that may inform how I work in future. Having been highly influenced by the feminist and queer groups I started my activism with in the 1990s, I was keen to have a flat structure and lots of ideas contribution from the participants, but others seemed more keen to have me lead in a more traditional way, which I found difficult. It's hard to strike the balance between being authoritative and authoritarian, I feel.

This being the most complex project I have ever undertaken, and not being in optimal health, it's been quite the ride and incredibly mercurial. Doing things the DIY way is not really in vogue now, at least as far as creative projects go. I have seen negative comments on Facebook forums assuming industry norms, and this is not how I have ever worked.  I have been producer-director-location manager-catering manager, and a host of other roles.

In future, I may need to go back to doing my singular small films which require much less logistical planning. But there is a huge buzz in seeing a cast and crew assembled and giving their all. The last day of our shoot we shot a live band performance that had my hair standing on end. Such are the moments that make one want to do it again.