Monday, July 12, 2010

Draft Commentary On My Video Documentary

This is the beginning of a draft for some commentary about my film, Tasha Diamant’s Human Body Project. The film is 53 minutes long so at this rate I have a long way to go.

0:00-0:57 Opening scene in which I walk across stage naked, get my husband to hug me, and wish the audience peace

I chose this as the opening scene to start the film with love and peace. The hug between my husband and me is very sincere and gives me, anyway, a visceral feeling of the love and trust that is between us in that moment. This seemed, to me, to be the best possible evocation of the feeling I am hoping to promote in the world.

I then turn to the audience from this place of love to wish them peace. The clip continues for a while as I walk around the room looking at people while silently wishing them peace with my hands in prayer position. I continued with this part of the clip because I am hoping the film audience also takes in this wish for peace.

The day this clip was shot, my second Tasha Diamant’s Human Body Project show, was the most uncomfortable and difficult show for me at the Edmonton fringe. The audience was very quiet and stony-faced. Two women complained about the nudity in a way that made me feel defensive (one shows up later in the film). Both Megan, my co-presenter, and I felt that the feeling in the room was hostile. We also learned later that the Edmonton Sun reviewer was there. He’s in the back with dark hair and glasses. He gave the show 2 1/2 stars complaining that it was political and that he wished we’d put our clothes back on. My loyal cousin in Edmonton was outraged, but I actually thought it was a fair review for a Sun paper.

At the time of this clip under discussion, it was near the end of the show and I felt a strong need to at least try to connect with this audience in a peaceful way. I don’t as a matter of course always wish my audiences peace in this manner but it felt very necessary in that moment.

So it was really interesting for me to watch the video footage of that show months later and see that the people in that audience did often smile at us, many did often look engaged, and, contrary to what both Megan and I remember, they did clap for us at the end. It was a good reminder of the inaccuracy and inadequacy of perception. I think some people at that show were confused and irritated by their confusion but I also think there was more goodwill there than Megan and I were able to take in.

Unless video audiences read this commentary, they won’t know the background of that clip that day, but I think it adds another important layer of introduction to the video: the idea of overlapping realities—individual internal and external realities; and the realities of each person separately and together.

0:57-1:33 “Being naked is easier than being open-hearted… Another thing though that I’ve realized is that it is easier to be open-hearted when I’m naked.” That should sum it up!

But, still, I lengthened this scene, against my co-editor’s will, after making the first version. I added the statement about how I’d been doing “this” for four years and the part where I say I’m very uncomfortable.

Several people who had given me feedback about the first version said they would like to see more explanation, like why I’m doing it or how it came about that I’m standing there naked. I actually agree with MunirĂ© (my co-editor and co-producer) that the video is enough explanation; as the video unfolds people have a discovery experience and there is plenty of explanation. The whole film is explanation! I find it interesting that even after watching the whole video many people still need an explanation. Like Megan has said to me, you can explain and explain but that doesn’t mean people will understand. This film seems like a perfect document to illustrate the difficulty of talking across paradigms (Clandinin & Connelly).

I also find it odd that people often don’t seem to get that my discomfort is part of the point. I am sure that for many people there is an assumption that I must be an exhibitionist. There is such a visceral response to nudity and vulnerability and crossing over the line from personal to public. Some people can’t get past their initial discomfort and discomfited squirminess and/or maybe they think there needs to be a linear explanation for everything. It is my distinct impression that the response spectrum from rejection to low-key that I have received from the Education faculty, none of whom have been to a Human Body Project event and most of whom have not seen the film, has at least some relation to these types of reactions.

1:33-3:15 Megan and I enter, introduce ourselves, Megan eventually says: “This is totally weird, hey?”

This footage is from the very first show in Edmonton. Megan joined me spontaneously at my third annual Human Body Project event in Lethbridge in 2008 (she talks about that later). But neither of us had ever done a fringe show and we hardly knew each other. We were very nervous and uncomfortable. I wanted to show that palpable discomfort early in the film to allow the film audience to have that experience up front just as the real audiences do. As Megan says, it is “totally weird” to be in a room with two naked women who are showing up authentically. Later on in the film I talk about how there are no social norms for such a situation.

In our culture it is more socially normal to be in a room with naked women who want to grind their crotch on yours—if you are a man (as a rule) and if you pay them money. At the very least, in our culture, naked women should suggest titillation. We, even beautiful, nubile Megan, are decidedly not titillating. How, then, does an audience deal with the non-titillating presence of these naked women? One of the delights of the film as it progresses is that many members of the fringe audience were very much up to the task.

This is the first time that Megan speaks and moves on camera. She is 25 years younger than me. I am old enough to be her mother and I felt and feel strong maternal feelings for her. We are now friends but on the day of this clip we had probably spoken with each other for a grand total of 15 minutes plus a few emails. After joining me in 2008 Megan kept in touch sporadically and indicated that she’d like to join me in Edmonton for three of the six shows. Her suggestion to join me felt right to me and that’s how I made the decision to include her. I also feel like her presence in the film adds something important and special—her youthful energy and easy openheartedness, for instance.

I find it painful on my friend Megan’s behalf that almost every person who saw the first version of the film complained about Megan as show-offy and over the top. One of them wondered why they all found her somewhat irritating and I said: “Because you’re all old fogies!” (Every one of my friends who I showed it to is over 40.) I have warned Megan to be on guard for this if the film ever becomes something. We will both be projected upon left and right but she, as a young and beautiful woman, may well bear the brunt.

Eve Ensler, on TED.com, talks about the missing “girl” in the world. She is talking about the suppression and oppression and repression of feminine energy and emotionalism (and more). We have lived for millennia in this kind of world and it is shattering us all on every level (I talk later in the film about the overbalance to masculine energy). To me, Megan perfectly embodies Ensler’s idea of “the girl”—beautiful, emotional, shining, joyful, honest, flowing—and threatening! When you have lived in a culture that has squashed “the girl” in you, seeing that kind of freedom and openness is bound to bring up all sorts of defences.

Interestingly, the fringe audiences responded to Megan with what I perceived as great empathy and love. It could be the audience but I also think there is no replacement for the actual experience. A real, live, vulnerable person can and does evoke deeper emotion. While I made the film to share the Human Body Project experience and to help the project grow and to spread the message of peace through vulnerability, I’m not sure it can substitute for the lived experience of sharing that vulnerable situation. We are just too inured to seeing and separating ourselves from people on screen.

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