Saturday, May 30, 2015

am i breaking the fourth wall, here?

What else is left to say?

I mean, identity and the presentation of self are both big throughlines in my upcoming master's thesis, but there I will probably be stuck with a lot of the prior scholarship on the topic--a little Goffman, a little Butler with a bit of Munoz maybe. Also in my thesis there's going to be some Weick, a communication theory of his that deals with sensemaking. While he applies it often to organizations, I deal with it on an individual level; it's basically how we make sense of the world around us. (There's more detail to it, but I won't bore you today.) Stories We Tell actually deals in something closer to Weick's organizational sensemaking than any individual sensemaking. The whole Polley/Buchan/Gulkin brood is re-contructing a story together because of the structure Sarah Polley has chosen. Except, they are not working together to do so. She has positioned their various stories next to each other to manufacture one larger story, but it's not like they are sitting in a singular space bouncing ideas off one another. That is more like we do it in reality. Here, it's a process that takes place off screen. We're seeing the results as individuals take what they know of the larger story and present it.

Today, I'm interested in something more personal. Sarah Polley's personal sensemaking. And, like me with this blog, she's doing it through movies (and here, also plays).

Just here within the context of Stories We Tell, for example, several plays and films are referenced directly. These are not the only productions that Sarah's mother or father(s), or Sarah herself, were ever involved in, but they are the ones that get namechecked.

The opening lines of Stories We Tell come from Margaret Atwood's novel Alias Grace, of which Sarah Polley is working on directing a film version. Though based on real events, the 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery, the novel injects a fictional doctor into the investigation to explore the dichotomy between (one of) the convicted killer(s) and her rather mild mannered appearance. I've never read the novel, but I understand that Atwood plays with shifting points of view to create uncertainty. This is what Polley chooses to begin her film about how we tell stories, how we establish history and truth from opinions and disjointed narratives. And, it's also potentially the next film Polley will be directing.

Michael Polley references two plays early in the film--Harold Pinter's The Caretaker, in which he plays Mick and that's how, he says, Diane was initially attracted to him--

(It occurred to me last night that when my then-future, now-past wife first met me in person, she expected me to be someone else. Physically, I mean. Having read stories and poetry on my website, she imagined me as a taller, lankier kind of nerd. I forget the details, but I think she imagined I had longer hair as well. But, I was short, overweight, with short, often messy hair. The reality and the imagined person were not the same. Now, it's not the same as what Michael is suggesting here, because I don't think the personality was different. But, it's an interesting idea--that we imagine people to be things they are not. We fill in the gaps when we don't know all there is to know.)

--and The Condemned of Altona by Jean Paul Sartre in which he and Diane acted together. The former includes a character, Davies, who constantly invents his personal stories depending on to whom he is talking. The latter--with some existentialist themes--includes a character, Franz who has locked himself away because of a troubled history that needs to be investigated by other characters.

The play that takes Diane away to Montreal is Toronto by David Fermario. A quick Google search offers up absolutely nothing about this play. I want to suspect that the play doesn't exist at all, that is is a construct of this narrative. It is a specifically unmemorable piece about actors auditioning for roles. And this, as Diane has left her home, left her family, and is trying on a (new?) (different?) version of herself.

Another play mentioned is Filumena Marturano by Eduardo De Filippo, and the film version, Marriage Italian Style. This play (and film) involves a prostitute who passes off one of her three sons as the son of the man she wants to remarry. But she doesn't tell him which son, and--as presented here using footage from Marriage Italian Style, the man cannot figure out which son is his and ends up marrying Filumena again. As quoted in Stories We Tell, the last line is Filumena telling Domenico, "Children are children, and they're all equal." Stories We Tell presumes an equality of children's stories, but also involves a question of parentage, offering up three fathers instead of three sons.

Harry Gulkin produced many films, but the only one mentioned here by title is Lies My Father Told Me. (This is mentioned in context of the documentary Red Dawn on Main Street, which is actually about Harry Gulkin.) The title alone suggests a thematic link to the story here, but I'm more interested in the specifics. For example, Gulkin tells Forward that he was drawn to the story because of the love story between grandson and grandfather, "without the complications that exist in the relationship between parents and their kids... [a] kind of love, which was untrammeled by the difficulties and strains of the relationships between parents and their kids."

We see Sarah on the set of Mr. Nobody. I wrote about this film back in Day 352 - every morning i wake up without a scratch on me; you can read about it in more detail there, but the basic throughline is that the last mortal human is recounting his lifestory (or possibly losing his mind, or both). But, Nemo Nobody's story keeps branching in multiple directions... two possiblities when his parents separate, three possibilities depending on which of three childhood friends he marries. I tied this structure back to Groundhog Day because Phil Connors gets to "play with the possibilities" by reliving his day again and again. Nemo Nobody does this in retrospect, building a story out of potentialities and possibilities just as the Polleys/Buchans/Gulkins here do the same. Truth lies not in the facts but the versions thereof that exist in the head of the storyteller. Within Stories We Tell, this moment involves Polley dressed as a Neanderthal, upset by a phone call and running outside, forgetting her costume and her makeup and then wondering why so many passersby are staring at her. It makes for this outlandish, comedic moment even as within the narrative it is a potentially tragic moment for Polley. Like many of the references already mentioned above, it plays just a little too neatly.

I would not suggest, without more information, that these titles are referenced deliberately to make a point. But, I must wonder if these titles are not specifically memorable, specifically tied to the story by these storytellers because they connect to the themes present in the larger story. Diane Polley starred in other plays, but those are not relevant because they are about other things...

If they can be.

I mean, I keep coming back to a lot of the same themes regardless of what film I am watching for this blog. I've argued more than once that every film tells us something about gender roles in the time and place it was made. I've suggested more than once that all of these films deal in ideas like identity or some archetypal ideas of who we are; seriously, that I can keep coming back to the cinematic Christ-Figure, for example, suggests that a lot of the stories we choose to tell, and act out, and put to film, are about saviors, about heroes who can step up and do things we generally cannot in our own daily lives. We watch all these stories, we tell all of these stories, to each other, to ourselves, because we want to believe that we can do these things, that we can also step up and do what is necessary if it comes down to that. We identify ourselves within the stories because that makes life open up; it offers up possibilities that might never actually come but that are real in that moment. We exorcise and exercise our demons and our dreams by watching film, by making film, by telling and retelling stories.

It's the same thing every day with our personal presentation. We tell our story in deliberate ways to create in the minds of others, at the least, and to convince ourselves, at the best, that we are who we say we are. And, who we are, who we believe our selves to be, affects what other stories we seek out--like Gulkin, perhaps, seeking out Lies My Father Told Me because he has missed out on having grandparents around in his childhood.

(Note, Lies My Father Told Me predates Harry's affair with Diane so his choice there can have nothing to do with missing out on knowing his own daughter as she grew up. Still, namechecking that film within this film can have something to do with that.)

I didn't choose to write every day about Groundhog Day because that film specifically tied into my life. It did, and it would day in and day out (and will again tomorrow), but I chose to write about film because film has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. I swear we rented movies from the Wherehouse on close to a weekly basis when I was a kid. At least, that's how I remember it. And, the memory is more important than the facts here. My experience of it was that we were renting movies regularly, seeing them in theaters about as regularly, and my childhood is all twisted up with film after film. If I made a documentary about my life, I would invariably namecheck movies in the process. This blog has just been a more deliberate version of that...

Coming back to Sarah Polley, though, I must note a few more films. First of all, my own first recognition of her comes from Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter, a film that is also about the construction of truth out of multiple perspectives; specifically in dealing with the matter of guilt regarding a school bus accident that left most of a small town's children dead. Polley plays one of the (or is the only?) children who is still around, having survived the accident. The investigation into the accident hinges on her testimony. It has been a while since I've watched the film, but I'm finding myself more interested in my memory of it right now than looking up the details. But, Polley's character has had a (consensual?) sexual relationship with her father, and what version of events she presents to the investigators depends in some way on what her father wants her to say and whether or not she will do what he wants. Meanwhile, the primary investigator has a bit of a crisis going on with his own daughter, a drug addict who calls him for money from time to time. This is a story I connect to Sarah Polley, even as I come to watch the films she has directed, whether or not the association is relevant.

As for her other films, I think they are worth mentioning here as well. Away from Her, which I have seen, deals with an old married couple separated by the wife's Alzheimer's. Take This Waltz, which I have not seen, deals with a wife who finds herself attracted to a neighbor. Her (potential) next film, Alias Grace, I've already mentioned, deals with a woman who is not quite what she appears too be. I wonder if, as Michael Polley suggests late in Stories We Tell, Sarah is dealing with issues from her life experience in her choice of subjects.

I think of the stories I have written. A lot of stories with supernatural elements. Perhaps coming from my own history with horror films and reading a lot of Stephen King as a teenager and in my twenties. Or was I interested in those things because I had trouble with my own upbringing in which I was supposed to be believing in a supreme being but wasn't really seeing it, feeling it. For a while in my twenties, I had the I WANT TO BELIEVE poster from The X-Files on my wall. I spent a lot of time reading about aliens and ghosts and cryptozoological creatures, searching for something... outside normal. I think I did want to believe in something. But, ultimately, I came to the conclusion there was nothing. And, while I still have that poster, it is rolled up with some other old posters, collecting dust.

But, I still wrote stories with supernatural elements. Inevitably, they were bogged down by discussions of things that were real, personal relationships, politics, philosophy. But, most of the time, spiraling around to something outside the ordinary. The most grounded-in-reality novel that I wrote--a love story that twists on the power of memory, by the way--still depends on the main character having had an experience with the supernatural in a previous novel of mine. The fantastic, in my writing, often served as a deliberate counterpart to ground the more real elements in contrast. Just like, I think, my discussion of films in this blog often serves as a deliberate counterpart to ground discussion of, well, life in contrast.

More on that tomorrow, as I return to Groundhog Day once again, as has been my monthly habit in this second year. It punctuates the separate chapters of the story of this blog, and it draws all of them together as one cohesive story. My story, in what by now is hundreds of thousands of words.

And still, it seems incomplete.

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