Tuesday, June 9, 2009

...no lies, verite and feminism

Many thanks to Peter for introducing me to this film and for doing the work in making it available to us. It is a great little film, I think, and I'll glad I got the chance to see it and try to think it through. This may not make total sense if you don't recognize some references, but it's the only way I could really describe my reaction.

First of all, even though I came to ...no lies with no prior knowledge, I could not watch it "pure"; this is because I had already encountered this approach before in the great feminist work Daughter Rite (Michelle Citron, 1978). It certainly seems that Citron was influenced by Block, although I'm not sure if Citron would have seen it (I'm guessing she might have, since she was writing criticism for Jump Cut before becoming a director). Citron's film is about 50 minutes, and features a number of verite-style situations involving two sisters. The most powerful moment occurs when one of the sisters describes being raped by one of her mother's boyfriends when she was a young girl. However, at the end, we are informed that we had been witnessing not a documentary but rather a fictional construct.

The reasons why Citron chooses to do this are very much contextual. Feminist filmmaking in the 1970s begins through the use of cinema verite, talking heads documentaries that allow women to speak in their own words about their own experiences. However, this was quickly challenged by feminists who wanted to break with this idea that cinema verite realism could produce an objective truth. The call was for a documentary practice that joined with a cinematic materialism – a concern with the form of cinema’s signifying practices – and a political materialism – a concern with the concrete social practices that underpin ideology. Citron’s film can be seen as an example of this kind of feminist approach to the documentary. Her problem was trying to make a film about relations between women in the family without producing a simple cinema verite confessional or a fictional portrait of a representative family. Citron’s strategy is to reconstruct and juxtapose different forms: cinema verite, soap opera melodrama, home movies and journals. Citron thus problematizes identification itself – its false and easy notions of truth. Citron replaces more conventional and unitary REPRESENTATION OF with multiple, overlapping and contradictory RELATIONS TO: a polyphony of female voices in relation to the issue of mothers and daughters within patriarchy. Thus if the film is feminist, it is also post-structuralist to some degree, although certainly not to the degree of a Derrida or a Foucault: there is still a feminist foundation.

Likewise, I thought about Block's film within its context. The other film that came immediately to mind was Jim McBride's David Holzman's Diary (1968), one of the first extended questionings of verite and the notion of cinematic truth. But Block is up to something more, I think, something quite radical in its view of cinema and reality. That he chooses to use the subject matter of rape is not at all surprising and not without precedent in modernist explorations of cinema. Alain Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad (1961), as Lynn Higgins has convincingly argued, is very much about the seduction/ rape as a metaphor about the elusive nature of storytelling and fiction. Block uses rape here at least partly because as a crime it hinges on who is telling the truth. Or, so we think. As Peter points, there is more than one rape here: he mentions the camerman's rape of her and the director's rape of us. But, I think more important is the rape by the police, especially the man asking her for details of the crime. And here's where I would qualify the statement about Block "raping" the audience: I think if this wasn't fiction, if I was in fact "real" or we were made to think it was, it would be more of a rape, especially of the woman we see filmed. At that point, wouldn't we be victimizing her just as the policeman, wanting to hear the sordid sexual details of her ordeal?

I would consider ..no lies a work in dialogue with feminism, or at least useful for feminist appropriation, but not really feminist itself. I think this is because there is no real foundation here. I would draw an analogy with feminist like Judith Butler drawing on Foucault. Citron drew on Block's film to make a more complex feminist film than the tradition before it, but still stayed in that tradition. ...no lies seems to me a more open work, but also one that feels bleaker, more despairing, almost verging on the nihilistic. What perhaps mitigates this is the amazing performance Peter mentions. But even so, as Peter says: "Mystically, Ms. Leverington speaks a truth for victims that can't speak, or have been hushed. Is this the 'fact' that we want to believe?" This seems to speak to a pessimism around truth that is the dominant mood of the work, very different in this respect from something like Daughter Rite, which for all its deconstructing of verite never questions the women's stories and situations (hence its feminist foundation). Nevetheless, Peter also states that it is a film that contains "so much truth". Is this the truth of simply never taking cinema verite for granted? Or, more radically, any notion of any single truth?

1 comment:

Peter Rinaldi said...

Very interesting stuff, Marc. I hadn't heard of "Daughter Rite". I'd be interested to find out if Block knows of it.

You make a revelatory point: "if it was in fact "real" or we were made to think it was, it would be more of a rape, especially of the woman we see filmed. At that point, wouldn't we be victimizing her just as the policeman, wanting to hear the sordid sexual details of her ordeal?"

I think that upon my first viewing, having thought it was real, my reaction was one of having participated in this figurative violation by watching her tell this story and wanting to know, along with the cameraman, if it "really happened". Like you say, we share a perversion with the officer and then, finally, with the cameraman. Me thinking Block tacked some credits on this documentary so as to "not embarrass the woman" then, was in a way me thinking block was trying to STOP this "final" raping of the woman by the audience. Of course, finding out that this was created, I then become the violated.

Incidentally, Block says he was greatly influenced by "David Holtzman's diary". He speaks more about influences in our interview. I will post it.

I think the "truth" it has in abundance is emotional truth. Leverington pulls this from a deep place.

Her performance is actually so good that we can sooner believe that what she is hiding is the fact that she is exaggerating about the events of the rape (which is what the camerman is trying to get out of her)rather than hiding the biggest "lie", that she is actually an actress!

Also, because she based a lot of this story on actually stories by rape victims found on something called "the rape tape", all of what she described actually did happen in reality, just not to her.