The film, a pioneer in American cinema verite, is at the same time cinema parode…oui, pardon, je suis amerikawn, parody. The moderator mentioned that the film anticipated youtubiness of such diaries like lonelygirl15–the title which Demme had to remind him of. The talk made my skin crawl. But first the film.
Every time Holzman quotes Godard in the film (maybe 2 or 3x) saying “truth is 24 times a second”, all I heard was Laura Mulvey barking “death 24 times a second!” in my ear.
My mother also lived in the upper west side in 1967, when she was a sophomore in college. I loved that and upon telling her about it she said ‘maybe i was in it!’, I laughed and thought how much she would have liked to seen her old neighborhood on film, and how I’d like to hear what she thought, if it represented the neighborhood accurately, if it was a portal to the past, if she even liked it.
But I know if she saw it she would be reminded of the clamor and arrogance with which she often vaguely describes her memories of that time, of New York, of the men she knew or didn’t. After all, on the columbia campus you learn real quick “never date an engineer!!”, a star point which has remained one of her best pieces of advice.
Although she has never told me the full story of her experiences in NYC, being a student in 1968, and bizarre run-ins with the law, her past remains to me more like a mosaic, a pastiche of moments, fragmented, kaleidoscope like, but inevitably straying far from ever sounding like the lamentations of a nostalgic hippie, something she never identified as. But that’s neither here nor there.
But I still want to hear what it’s like. So bad. From someone who has feelings. That’s why it’s a damn shame that ‘Holzman’ never let a woman get a word in. There was Penny, who was “dirty”, literally, caked in dirt, which we know because Holzman pushes a picture of her towards the camera saying “look closely at the ring of dirt under her chin”. Her character was a model who didn’t like to be filmed. the horror! Then there was the neighbor woman, who we only knew from a far, a lame play on Rear Window. Finally, there was the transgender woman in the car, who Demme later referred to as “half woman”. Sadly, neither of the two idiots on stage knew she was not she by birth until long after the film was made. The story goes that Mcbride’s friend later “fucked her and she had a very muscular back.”
The film was like a blunt punch to the kidney, and the discussion following a foot to the jugular of a baby bird. On the stage were dudes, a dude introduced them, most people asking questions were, shockingly, dudes. One woman asked about the role of women in the film, which was a relief, but Mcbride’s answer was jaw droppingly naive.
Mcbride mcresponded to the question of Penny (Eileen Dietz) that in the film she was a model for work, but didn’t like to be filmed because she can only reveal herself on a surface level, but never reveal her soul. Which explains why, tempestuous as a rabid child, leaves her loser boyfriend. The real Penny eventually tracked him (Mcbride) down, got the film, and never gave it back. I wouldn’t have either.
But, I ask you, oh lords of verite, oh film school egos, oh kim’s employees, oh anyone so short-sighted to think a woman cannot overcome her vanity and truly reveal her soul to the camera: consider Marceline. Marceline Loridan Ivens that is, from Jean Rouch’s Chronicle of a Summer. The picture above is a her hand holding the flower and cigarette, carefully concealing her tattooed number from the Holocaust. Its a still from a still before one of the most beautiful scenes in history; Marceline walking slowly around Paris, a small suitcase in hand which must have been holding her mic equipment, she reflects on her past and the seemingly tangled promises it had offered her. She was given the chance to speak and so she spoke poetry.
This is the scene before that scene of just Marceline, which I couldn’t find.