two short films by Kika Thorne -Fashion, Division-as seen by Barbara Sternberg
These films have an honesty about them. They are what they are. They are small films (Kika indicates with fingers an inch or so apart), Super 8 , black and white, not glitzy. I do not experience their roughness as statement or generational identification mark, nor do they exactly fit the stylistic genre of 'challenging rawness'. Kika has selected and composed : the striped dress in "Fashion" not incidentally patterns the screen and reiterates the TV monitor off of which it has been filmed. However, the bathtub heterosexual love-making that comprises the action of Division has not been beautifully lit, composed, aestheticized.
As I watch Division, I am put in mind of the 50's and 60's Underground films in which men and women - mostly women in men's films - cavorted naked, breaking taboos or fulfilling fantasies. Here, the 90's woman is in the active role, in her actions as lover within the film and in the fact that Kika is herself the filmmaker. I observe that while the bodies are not perfect 'models', no statement is being made in their uncovering, nor is the love-making especially passionate, daring or unusual. I think of some 70's videos where the immediate feedback of the medium and social conditions combined in single-take, self-revelatory, no-hands-ma- what-you-see-is-what-you-get, honest, not-Hollywood, love-making. This isn't that exactly, either. The motivation doesn't feel the same. This is more constructed, though not aesthetized and, besides, those points have already been made, these are different times.
So I begin to think, 'Yes, OK you're honest and brave, baring all, but do I need to see it? Is this it? ' Then the text, a word, comes on the screen, supered in a space between the bodies (past encounters shadowing, inner doubts and fears, the voice of distrust), one word, small, faintly typed, 'liar', strikes me from my complacent, even superior, seat and I am there. Not with Kika, but alone, in the dark of my emotions, memories alive, totally vulnerable, sad. The pain of it takes me by surprise—I thought I was "liberated", done with all this, had it under control - just as smells bring to life past memories instantaneously and the lump in the throat comes unbidden. The scab on the wound of betrayal and distrust is easily picked off (filmmaking/ viewing as therapy; film criticism as confession). What is the lie? That "I" am accepted, included, (not tolerated or token or resented); is the lie that "I" am equal; is it a lie that desire speaks, or is it the lie of love? One truth uncovered here is that we know and yet deceive ourselves. The impact of the film comes upon one unawares and it hurts.
The film ends. Clicked out of myself, I realize this pain is not just me and my hormones, conditioning, whatever, because, hey, this is Kika's film. And I am reminded of my group identity, not only an 'I', but a 'we.' And 'we' have far to go and we're working on it. In both films, the filmmaker is operating from a double position, a splitting of self: the awareness of self as woman, and the being of it. Kika speaks of these films and her positions in love-making as responses to her own feminism: "I have to be strong, dominant - it's the only way not to be dominated, to be on top. When I'm in the 'missionary position,' I count the seconds! I want to change myself, make conscious changes. To do that, I have to do it in bed. Birgit Hein said, 'sex is our prison,' and that's really true. There's so much involved in it, there's desire, economics, self-esteem, family relations—it's all there, in bed with you during sex. My films aren't sexy, though. They're critiques of sex." The bed or bathtub is the stage, and sex, an arena for testing and a forum for communication.
The splitting into a self-conscious or critical stance applies also to film itself. At one moment in Division, Steve Butson, the guy love-making partner, looks up awkwardly, self-conscious or camera-conscious, and thus breaks the 'reality' within the film. In his 'look away', deception is revealed, the connection broken. This reads neither as deliberate strategy a la Godard nor as 'returning-the-gaze.' And for a moment I am unsure (is Steve embarrassed, has Kika made a mistake, do we need to enact these private things publicly, should I as audience be thinking these thoughts), maybe even disappointed (the film has let me down, released me to judge it). Control shifts: self-deception to the deception of cinema.
This moment of interruption echoes the straightforward approach that I was having trouble placing, a self-consciousness the film has had all along. Different than the connection that is made between film (material medium) and subject (the sensual bodies of lovers) in the celebration of both that characterizes Carolee Schneemann's Fuses. Kika had decided, while editing, to leave this "bad" shot in, conscious of the implications of this convergence between film and its history, this moment of slippage, and the words 'liar' and 'division'. Film as lie, as liar. Which of the many possible lies we've been told, we tell, we tell ourselves, we enact, is being referred to or is being participated in here?
In Fashion, the form-fitting , black & white striped dress, shot originally in video and re-filmed off the screen, doubly references popular culture, the 60's of the dress style, and its reinstitution in 80's Black Label ads . The fashion of the title is not only that of clothing, surface, but of the stuff of which we are fashioned, our formative contexts, submerged, internalized mindsets. Belying the flat surface are layers. Text voices one layer of desire, "I want to make myself a victim, to be passive", as image resists it. (As she lies on her back , fists clench.) We don't always want what we desire. Kika's acting out of this position on the screen makes the viewer face a conflicting, yes/no place.
Kika's films are her and hers, in this sense, unique. But she is not alone. She mentions Fox-Core music groups such as L7, Luna Chicks, Yeasty Girls, Mourning Sickness—hard core, lusty women expressing themselves in many contradictory ways, violent and violated and caring. There are also Super 8 films by Linda Feesey and by Nadia Sistonen in which tension exists, the potential for harm and for tenderness and for foolishment are all held in sensual suspension.