Listening to Lizzie Borden and Jessie Rovinelli talk So Pretty, Working Girls, and Beyond
This Culture Club entry was truly a gift, my inbox was/is such a hellscape that when this beautiful exchange arrived from Lizzie via So [thank you to Jenny for designing the collage images for this 6-pager! – SM] I couldn’t quite believe it. The connection between two incredibly talented filmmakers seems so obvious, but being able to watch/listen to their connection grow through their email exchanges is precious. Lizzie and Jessie learn about each other, discuss the pandemic & Black Lives Matter protests; they swap stories and insights; talk about love and their work in depth. Reading the piece is like watching two of your friends at a party meet for the first time and build a new relationship; you’re not involved, you’re just witnessing something beautiful grow all on its own.
As editor, I’m proud of every single Culture Club piece. To quote Sarah Crewe’s sparkling review of Porridge Radio: “It’s no under-achievement in times such as these to bring people joy through intricate, complicated work disguised in poptones,” and every single contributor delivered in a way that was intricate, complicated and personal. As Cathy Brennan writes of a similar approach in her poignant appreciation of The Lighthouse/Mayak, “This perspective highlights the gaps of subjectivity, yet also makes up for the absence of other perspectives [in the mainstream].”
CdF the opportunity to use this space to quilt together a collective subjectivity through multiple perspectives that admit their partiality and reach for connection. That hope of connectivity and interweaving was highlighted when we were able to commission two responses as part of our programme Between Us We Have Everything We Need: Irenosen Okojie’s thrilling imaginative immersion in A Place of Rage that made the film feel as if it had been made today; and Grace Barber-Plentie and Javie Huxley’s gorgeously layered articulation of the layers within the programme’s three contemporary short films, which opened up their incredible, interconnected sense of histories.
It was this sense of connection that made the project a consistent joy: through every conversation that led to or shaped a piece through to every conversation that emerged from a piece, with the writers, with CdF, and with people who read and commented and shared – sometimes then becoming contributors themselves!
In the spirit of quilting and also Great Conjunctions, here are some constellations that might bring you fresh ways of reading or re-reading as we head into what is hopefully a new year:
- Three pieces that really challenge the form and invite us into their spaces thrillingly: Lizzie Borden and Jessie Rovinelli’s frankly epic and epically frank conversation; Helen de Witt’s narrative timeline of women’s documentary-making, complete with viewing list; and Dima Matta’s intimate essay with/in footnotes.
- Three genre-bending encounters with how film touches us and activates us: Andrea Luka Zimmerman on the rebel women of Daisies; Grace Barber-Plentie on learning with Sweet Sugar Rage; and Anahit Behrooz on feeling locked in and languid with The Virgin Suicides.
- Three sensory trips into solace that draw on multiple forms and media and/through processes of making and moving: Maria Cabrera’s beautiful collage of music, film, art and activism; Jenny Clarke’s tantalising sampler of Clare Hunt’s Threads of Life; and Reba Martin stretching toward release.
- Three considerations of the star as guiding star: Sarah Wood’s delicious paean to Barbra; Helen Charman’s compelling howl with Fiona; and Pamela Hutchinson’s scintillating celebration of Cheryl (and Fae).
- Three deep dives into underseen recent films from Latin America: Ania Ostrowska’s essential guide to good lesbian road trip sex in Daughters of Fire; Isabel Moir’s yearning toward female friendship and new horizons in Where I Grow Old; and Hava and Maz’s effervescent investigative engagement with Indianara.
- Three considered, spacious readings of memory work which infuses the cultural and personal: Hyun Jin Cho on reading Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments with her mother(‘s story); Girish Shambu on watching History and Memory at a time of ghosts; and Selina Robertson on reading while listening to Tracey Thorn and/as feminist history.
- Two ways to watch TV (queerly): Clara Bradbury Rance being brilliant and reflective on Netflix’s queerbaiting; and me in shock in lockdown week 1 clinging to Ariane Labed’s deeply comforting Trigonometry dungarees.
My Culture Club favs are… A tie!
Clara Bradbury-Rance, ‘Watching Myself Watching Netflix’s LGBTQ+ “Recommendations”’
What I love about this riotous piece is Clara’s clever ability to scrutinise and articulate my non-experience of ‘finding the lesbians’ in online streaming platforms. I have to admit that like Clara, I was a self-described cinema purist (pre-lockdown anyway) with a short attention span to sit through one episode, let alone to commit to the abundance of films, tv series and mini-boxsets that friends recommend, it happens that I only really have the time and inclination to sculk around the edges of online streaming life. But then, I thought, maybe I am as Clara points out, a promiscuous spectator too? Whatever my own philandering, to have the chance to queerly and vicariously live through Clara’s lockdown peccadillos has ‘brought me unique joy’ to quote Netflix back on itself. Mainly, because anyone who believes that queer viewing practices can still be found in the pleasures of the subtext, considers Patrick Swayze a style icon and Dirty Dancing one of the best coming-over movies of all time, is worth two rounds of the merengue (with me?!) anytime.
Girish Shambu, ‘Watching HISTORY AND MEMORY: FOR AKIKO AND TAKASHIGE by Rea Tajiri’
I remember when I read Girish’s poignant essay, it slowed me down (as his writing often does) because I was visibly moved by the way he wrote with utter clarity about the pleasure and gratitude of being able to watch Rea Tajiri’s video HISTORY AND MEMORY online for the first time. He begins his piece by thanking ‘the generosity of the many media artists, especially women of colour, who have shared their work on the Internet’. One of those artists was Rea who put her video online for the first time since it was made in 1991, and again, thanks to Rea’s generosity and Girish’s interventions, we were lucky enough to be able to offer CDF viewers free access to watch her video for a week. I felt humbled when I watched the video after reading Girish’s text. I have to admit that this is a history I knew almost nothing about, that 120,000 Japanese-Americans were imprisoned in internment camps during WWII in the aftermath of Pearl Harbour and more specifically Rea’s family was part of that generation who were interned. Rea’s video is in effect is an act of re-memory when memories of that experience have been shrouded in a silence and forgetting. Drawing on Marita Sturken’s cultural memory scholarship that positions cultural memory as a dynamic counter-narrative produced through its affects and cultural objects, Girish’s powerful writing is in itself an act of cultural memory work, an open-hearted transnational gesture that keeps HISTORY AND MEMORY present through his attentive magical film criticism.