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Childhood Memories and Household Events in the Feminist Avant-garde date

Childhood Memories and Household Events in the Feminist Avant-garde date


Glass Shadows shares with Meshes in the Afternoon the exploration of the space in which a couple live. In Glass Shadows this space is a loft apartment bordered on two sides by windows. The woman, Fisher, does all the filming, but both she and the man move through the spaces, nude, more as models than actors, taking rather stationary poses. They become statues of a sort, though by no means statuesque; rather, they simply stand. A mirror on a dresser provides an important interior frame reflecting the positions of the filmmaker and the man, as the hand-held camera pans and tilts through this space. Superimposition overlays the images, creating a great ambiguity of window-mirror reflection. Sometimes the two figures appear to be mere traces that embody a potential sexuality. Light through glass on a glass combines with the transparency of the layered images to efface the opacity of presence into a more ephemeral suggestion of the having been or the perhaps being. The images are voluptuous and airy all at once. Mostly the figures are distanced in the frame, sometimes fragmented by the framing. One close-up mirror-reflected tilt covers the curve of the filmmaker’s body, a region from breast to hip, the curve a certain feminine. This image contrasts graphically with other images of the filmmaker shooting, her gaze characterized by the camera which she holds, though not always at eye level. When the camera is held lower, centered on her body, we sometimes see her gaze echoing that of the camera, intent, serious, concentrated. The great fluidity is filled with ambiguities of intention and randomness–is this next shot a whim or a planned venture? One never knows. There is none of the constraint of purpose one senses in the pans of Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen’s Riddles of the Sphinx (1977) or Yvonne Rainer’s Journeys from Berlin/1970. Instead we have a willful looseness, a hesitancy of process as we witness a film being made. Fisher is light-handed, but not in the sense of frivolity or even the purely random, for there is also a sense of estimation and hypothesis in her selected camera gaze. Can one be both spontaneous and disciplined, motivated by theory, but charged with the risks of multivalent inspiration in a camera movement (as are great oriental brush painters in their gestural craft)?

The home movie, shakey, undisciplined, naive in its gestures of selection, is here reinscribed by the artist’s sense of light and the sensuality of a reflected architectonics. The tone is entirely different from Deren’s film of self, house and husband; Fisher’s does not delve into the unconscious, but images the surface of her imagination, the texture of light touching and permeating the spaces of her sexuality.

The reception of this film was mixed when it was first shown. It presents images seen by some as the epitome of voyeurism, narcissism, exhibitionism: the nude bodies, the mirror, the artist filming herself and trying to express her sense of the sensual. Those who the role of the feminist film as critiquing these figures as mechanisms of patriarchal filmmaking could only condemn Fisher’s work when they took it seriously enough to comment upon it at all. In an atmosphere of dogmatic quest for a correct feminist practice, a film like this was bound to be seen as reactionary or at least “essentialist”, a term connoting a mistaken position of a pure feminine. The dogmatism of this position is often oppressive and unaware of its internal contradictions. This tendency to be dogmatic can be understood, perhaps, in the context of a theory that contests the norm. In constructing a theory of representation that could struggle against what was oppressive in various filmmaking practices, particularly as regards women, it is easy to see why one would seek to eradicate the systematic exploitation of the female body as fetish object par excellence of the film frame. Yet. I regret that the fragility and sensitivity of Fisher’s film could be so unjustly trampled in the pursuit of this notion of a feminist theoretical film practice, especially since it hardly engages in standard inscriptions of voyeurism and narcissism. While it touches on elements of these processes of looking, it does so quite differently than other films, and that difference could be of great significance for feminist theory. I find it a film that challenges feminist theory to expand its vocabulary and judgement to include not only a mode of negative critique, but also a more positive exploration of visual pleasure, a direction that more of us now are anxious to pursue.