Not Sorry #4: Consumer – May 12, 2019
Anthology Film Archives
New York, New York
Critiquing popular culture by reappropriating found footage source materials or by restaging stereotypes are common strategies in the experimental film genre in general. Since popular media has both constructed and reinforced stereotypes of women, what better way to reclaim, talk back to, examine, and of course make fun of these manufactured and unrealistic identities than through these techniques. This program, under the general theme of consumerism (as consumers of media, ideas, and products), features another set of international filmmakers who engage directly with media, one’s access to it, or the false representations of women and their desires. Akosua Adoma Owusu’s INTERMITTENT DELIGHT combines images of textiles and the Ghanaian men and women who make them with clips of 1960s Westinghouse commercials in order to critique feminism’s uneven geographical and historical development; Vanessa Renwick’s TOXIC SHOCK is an experimental manifesto against the tampon; and Rawda Al-Thani’s I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN WATCHING YOU is a Qatari film that explores the female as viewed, viewer, and creator of images.
Vanessa Renwick TOXIC SHOCK (U.S., 1983, 3 min, 16mm. Preserved by the Academy Film Archive.)
A visceral personal response to surviving a near-fatal case of Toxic Shock Syndrome. Toxic Shock combines intimate taboos of needles, blood and tampons with tried and true hands-on self-defense, set to a spare, penetrating and unknown score provided by a cassette tape gifted by a forgotten friend. A call to arms; what will you do in defense of your body? “Penetration up the wazoo, blood, fire, gas, needles, tampons, liquid power and cocktails of the burning sort. My experimental response to sweating out near death with Toxic Shock Syndrome.” —Vanessa Renwick
Akosua Adoma Owusu INTERMITTENT DELIGHT (Ghana/U.S., 2007, 5 min, digital)
INTERMITTENT DELIGHT deconstructs Western consumerism by juxtaposing its commercial images, in the form of 1960s advertisements for domestic appliances, with documentation of work and tradition in the Ghanian textile trade. The recontextualized footage exposes a dissonance, not simply through the crosscut editing strategy but also via the percussive rhythms of the African music found throughout the film—in particular, over images of groovy white couples performing their era’s own consumerist bliss. The assemblage technique is not simply a dialectical tool, however, as it also evokes the unseen flows of goods and ideas. “[T]he intermingling between African weavers and the American housewives…implies the tension of a diasporic existence” (Nzingha Kendall, Black Camera). Using additional techniques to mediate the images, such as alternating between positive and negative or superimposing footage of people over graphic Batik fabrics, Owusu gives us moments of visual delight haunted by racial, economic, and gendered inequalities.
Leslie Thornton JENNIFER, WHERE ARE YOU? (U.S., 1981, 11 min, 16mm-to-digital)
“The film is a questioning of authority and authorship, of the power implicit in authority, of the balance between her fear and her will to disrupt, of the balance between her fear and his inability to understand her (lack of an) answer …” – Su Friedrich, Downtown Review, 1981.
Shu Lea Cheang SEX BOWL (U.S., 1994, 8 min, digital)
“The tape’s images are quick, suggestive, and sexy: fingers moving into bowling balls, shoe-smelling and toe-sucking, a dog wearing chain jewelry, fish being wrapped at the market, young naked couples having sex…. Edited like a music video, the image track is a constant flow of fetishes that lure us into the promiscuous pace of girls who keep lists of their sexual encounters.” —Chris Straayer, Deviant Eyes, Deviant Bodies: Sexual Re-orientations in Film and Video (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996)
Ariella Tai SHE’S NOT GONNA GET MORE DEAD (U.S., 2018, 6 min, digital)
Ariella Tai’s she’s not gonna get more dead combines footage from the 1993 film Daybreak, a dystopian sci-fi thriller in which people with sexually transmitted infections are forcibly placed into quarantine camps, the BET series Being Mary Jane about the professional and personal life of a successful TV news anchor, and other select excerpts of black women vampires. Speaking to Tai’s interest in exploring “the materiality of black bodies and black performance as vernaculars which subvert, interrupt or defy the diegetic cohesiveness of narrative,” the footage is often manipulated, not simply through editing but also through glitch and other visual disruptions. At times, this creates visual barriers between characters or distance from the viewer. The soundtrack is another key to the work, as the continuous juicy and crunching sounds throughout play with ideas of consumption (blood, bodies, sex, images) along with the slowed-down hook from Lil Uzi Vert’s 2017 hit single XO Tour Llif3.
Rawda Al-Thani I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN WATCHING YOU (Qatar, 2017, 9 min, digital)
Produced through the Doha Film Institute, Rawda Al-Thani’s I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN WATCHING YOU is a Qatari film that explores the female as viewed, viewer, and creator of images. In it, a young woman wanders alone through an abandoned cinema, trespassing with a hint of transgression while being watched by the male caretakers of the space. In the end she creates a narrative and cinema all her own, asking who is watching whom. A film programmer and filmmaker based in Qatar, Al-Thani’s work aim to examine the rapidly changing urban landscape of the city and its effects on its people.
Jennifer Chan BOYFRIEND (Canada, 2014, 6.5 min, digital)
Canadian artist Jennifer Chan uses the internet as a source of found images, from YouTube posts, to advertisements, to stock photos. Her video BOYFRIEND, edits together a mix of user-generated content and slick commercial footage, many of which deal with representations of Asian masculinity. The film’s juxtapositions generate a complex constellation of ideas around the politics of gender, ethnicity, and sexuality, particularly around Asian/Asian-American masculinity. Chan’s work, then, is interested in exploring the construction of masculinity in terms of representation and self-representation through the internet as a source of information, exploration, and identity construction.
Phoebe Ching Ying Man RATI (Hong Kong, 2001, 8 min, digital)
This work was inspired by images of people on the internet. Around 2000, online chatrooms started to become popular. However, most people would just want to show their bodies or look at women’s breasts and genitals. Phoebe Man created a walking vagina to question whether women are just pieces of meat. In the video, Rati lives like an ordinary woman, she would go to the library to read, and menstruate each month. With her look, even if she were doing something ordinary, it would look absurd. The work attempts to challenge gender stereotypes, and looks at women’s social and cultural images in a deconstructive manner, to open up an imaginative space. —Time Arts Center
Anne Charlotte Robertson APOLOGIES (U.S., 1986, 17 min, Super-8mm-to-digital)
Anne Charlotte Robertson began making films in the mid 1970s, immediately documenting her every day with a Super 8 camera. These intimate and obsessive diary films became forms of self-therapy for the filmmaker, who was diagnosed with a number of mental disorders including manic-depressive bipolar. Through the film’s self-aware, often humorous but unflinching commentary on women’s tendency to reflexively apologize, Robertson recognized her own impulse and sought to make a film as a way to “drive it out” of herself. “I noticed that I apologized a lot; it was a reflex action. I started noticing EVERY WOMAN I KNEW said, “I’m sorry” just to kind of smooth the conversation out. I noticed my mother said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.'” Shot mainly in her own apartment and always as a film crew of one—a common and necessary tactic for Robertson as well as other experimental and diary filmmakers—the incessant apologies, some serious and others transgressive, along with her constant smoking and coffee drinking, reveal a sort of mania familiar to many women.