Saturday, August 18, 2007

Danmed If You Don’t

I usually do not write about the shorts or documentaries I see, but this outstanding short is one not to miss if you know what experimental cinema is, have seen it before and enjoy it.

This short is so good that I am not going to write my own words, I’ll borrow the words of Lynn Bell and Michael Zryd from the University of Western Ontario, as I want to record them here.

“Damned If You Don't was an important contribution to the inauguration of a feminist cinema of visual and sexual pleasure, a contentious issue for feminist filmmakers and theorists more than a decade after Laura Mulvey's germinal "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (1975). Featuring a narrative structure and the depiction of women's bodies—forms and images proscribed by Mulvey's essay—the film reclaims the pleasures of character identification and of the sensual visual field. The heart of the film's narrative follows the episodic seduction of a young nun (played by Peggy Healey) by a woman (Ela Troyano), but Friedrich interweaves the story with both experimental cinema's use of poetic images and documentary's analytical contextualization. The film begins with a humorous deconstruction of a classical narrative, Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus (1947), as a voiceover emphasizes how, in the film's conflict between a "good nun" and a "bad nun," evil becomes associated with acting on forbidden desire. This binary of good and bad, sexual repression and sexual expression, is metaphorically expressed in the film's gorgeously optically-printed high contrast shots of seals, swans, and snakes gliding in water, their sensuous energies barely contained by the frame. Meanwhile, another voiceover text cites Judith Brown's Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy, a text which functions, like Black Narcissus, as a framing device for the central narrative seduction. Uncovering the sexual energies thinly disguised in nuns' submission to Christ, Immodest Acts adds an historical dimension to Friedrich's story, suggesting how the prohibitions on lesbian sexual desire have been negotiated and transgressed for centuries (often precisely through the indirection and mediation of metaphorical imagery).”

This is serious good American cinema and particularly this short is humorous and you’ll laugh quite often. As I continue discovering Su Friedrich work, I found myself regretting that I was not able to go to NYC and the MoMa midcareer retrospective they did on Friedrich. Most of the American experimental cinema I have seen has been at the MoMA and the Whitney in NYC and if you have the opportunity to visit the city, try to catch a screening at those museums, but be prepared for very unconventional cinema.


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