Wednesday, 14 October 2009

the brave experience

I so hate writing anything negative, especially not secretly hidden in one of my notebooks, but instead in public -- especially about artists or people trying to present them or their work.  yesterday’s blog didn’t sit well with me, but I did feel it warranted saying.


Tonight I was privileged to go to a screening of Samantha Morton’s stunning film The Unloved at London Film School.  Additionally, the directress was present for a Q&A after the film.  (Why  not directress??)


The Unloved is the diametric opposite of The Girlfriend Experience.  It’s a piece of cinema created to fill a need – a need in an artist and I daresay a need in her community.  A need in my community.


I volunteered with foster youth for about 6 years in Los Angeles.  Long enough to know that this safety net presents so little safety it’s daily frightening.  Long enough to know we need to do much better.


When coaching youth poetry, I became close to a small group of teens – mostly girls.  That birthed a spoken word piece, but despite the number of times I related my experiences with and feelings about the foster care system to people to hear that that was a movie I should make – I could never do it.  It never felt right.  It never felt real.  It felt like there’d be no way to write a movie about these lives without inviting exploitation into the process.


It just wasn’t my story to tell.


It is, however, Samantha Morton’s story to tell.  Not only because she’s an actress of depth and quality, not only because she’s a director of fortitude, but because it is a partially autobiographical story.  She lived to tell it.


This film needs to be seen.  You don’t need a review; just a recommendation.  Made originally for Film 4 and screened first on television, it plays like the best kind of art film – one that puts people in the centre without sacrificing any of the craft elements of film.  Sense of place, or rather sense of displacement, is used brilliantly here, and the sound design is some of the best I’ve heard in an indie since, oh….Laws of Gravity.  In the Q&A, when Morton cites Wim Wenders’ American Friend, there is a loud clicking sound in my brain – the use of colour and landscape harp back to that masterpiece.


Morton was insistent on shooting film, insistent on not appearing in the film, insistent on her moral and aesthetic commitment to the material.  She spoke on the need to use real, working, trained actors – especially in the roles of these at risk youth – because they would be prepared for the real emotions the story brings up, would know how to deal with them, process them, and hopefully leave them at work at the end of the day.  A film set is a place for professionals; otherwise it’s all just psychodrama.


Magic can happen when you don’t condescend to your subject.  A master like Soderbergh should never have missed that point.  Morton, a novice directress, approaches humbly, with caution, yet certainty, and in my mind achieves magic:  she simply translates the untranslateable.


The two LFS students in the lift at Covent Garden station didn’t agree.  They seemed to feel about it much the same way as I felt about TGE:  why didn’t she show and tell more, reveal more, why wasn’t it deeper.


Is this just the beginning of the gender split in this century-old medium?


When men can’t place themselves even for 90 minutes in the shoes of a female protagonist and women finally begin to address storytelling from our own perspectives?


Will it be necessary to just give ourselves a different title – say “directress” – to differentiate our ways of seeing and processing?


The other night, I had a dream.  A dream that I was accepting the Best Directing Oscar – the first one presented to a woman.  It was presented to me by Barbra Streisand.


In lieu of an acceptance speech, I just held the heavy (yes – it is really heavy) statuette aloft and said the names of those who had come before:


“Barbara Streisand, Sofia Coppola, Ida Lupino, Lina Wertmüller, Allison Anders, Jane Campion, Martha Coolidge, Amy Heckerling, Adrienne Shelley, Diane Keaton, Kathryn Bigelow, Elaine May, Darnell Martin,  Gillian Armstrong, Nancy Savoca, Penny Marshall, Nancy Meyers, Deepa Mehta,  Andrea Arnold, Maya Deren, Julie Dash, Angelica Huston, Maya Angelou, Julie Taymor, Joan Chen, Joan Micklin-Silver, Claire Denis, Agnieszka Holland, Catherine Breillat, Agnès Varda, Antonia Bird, Susan Seidelman, Euzhan Palcy, Chantal Akerman, Niki Caro, Jodie Foster, Maggie Greenwald, Lynn Ramsay, Nicole Holofcener, Miranda July, Sarah Polley, Mira Nair, Beeban Kidran, Allison Maclean, Maria Maggenti, Kasi Lemmons, Mimi Leder  Randa Haines, Dorris Dorrie, Shirley Clarke, Joyce Chopra…the list could go on.


We are here.  And we are going to tell our own stories now.”


Add Samantha Morton to that list.


And Sasha Gray.  Maybe when she’s done with all the glamour, she’ll stop letting men write the story they think is her and open her pretty lips to speak for herself.


I’m so grateful The Unloved was made.  Other than White Oleander, I’ve never read or seen anything that so accurately portrayed this system.  I’ve recently learned that someone close to me was placed into foster care while very young.  It’s hard for me to process his experience, except in light of my own experiences growing up and working with youth, yet seeing this film somehow made it clear.  The only safe place is a tiny light inside you that you try beyond trying to give harbour to.  Not everyone makes it without that light blowing out. 


But it’s the artist’s job to keep relighting that flame.




bridget said...

b e a u t i f u l l y
s a i d ,

and oh so necessarily told. xo ~bridget

tucker said...


Good stuff. I'll be back.

xoxo Tucker

E. Amato said...

thanks! i just noticed your comments - they don't tell me when people write! xo