FILMS BY SHEILA MCLAUGHLIN AND LYNNE TILLMAN (ARSENAL EDITION) (Films by Sheila McLaughlin and Lynne Tillman (Arsenal Edition)) Sheila McLaughlin, Lynne Tillman, USA/BRD 1976–1987, 194 min
Movies of Sheila McLaughlin and Lynne Tillman released on DVD for the first time!read more... hide...
McLaughlin and Tillman began shooting COMMITTED in 1980, before the Farmer revival, but their 80-minute film engages Graeme Clifford’s 1982 Jessica Lange vehicle on several levels. Where Frances was linear, COMMITTED comes at you in sections, leaving the viewer to thread a path through the wreckage of Farmer’s life. Like a purposefully decentered CITIZEN KANE, COMMITTED hopscotches around Farmer’s story, picking at key elements – her relationship with her mad, controlling mother, her masochistic affair with Clifford Odets, her brutal treatment in various, mental hospitals – as if at a scab. Farmer’s story is a gold mine of feminist themes. The Clifford film, as if afraid ist material might be too incendiary, found it necessary to objectify its subject through the eyes of a fictional male narrator-lover; COMMITTED simply sets Farmer (played by codirector McLaughlin) against the powerful social institutions that ultimately defeated her. Farmer’s adversaries ranged from motherhood and romantic love to mental health and the state (all celebrated by the meta-institution of the Hollywood film). Jessica Lange’s powerful performance notwithstanding, Frances was essentially an exploitation film whose emotional climax, aptly enough, was Farmer’s gang rape in the mental hospital (a fallen star’s ultimate appropriation by her fans). COMMITTED is more detached and more disturbing. The very qualities Farmer is said to lack – femininity, Americanness, sanity – are themselves illuminated as social constructions. McLaughlin underplays Farmer, saving her energy for a final blow-out. Her Farmer is not always likable – there’s a terrific scene where she sits through a movie screening in the mental hospital loudly gabbing to a friendly nurse – but she inhabits her role completely, and that’s no small achievement given the film’s fragmented delivery. Victoria Boothby is excellent as Frances’s dotty mother, and Lee Breuer makes an inspired Odets. Boothby’s chillingly flat, Midwestern delivery and Breuer’s self-righteous, first-generation diction (hers is the voice of American authority, his that of Americo-Stalinist authority) underscore the importance of voice in this film, where there’s far more talk than action and everyone is always complaining about Frances’s filthy mouth. (When a judge sentences her to 180 days in jail, her words are simply obliterated from the soundtrack.) COMMITTED has an impressive visual coherence for a production filmed on a shoestring over four years – it nearly lives up to the lurid promise of its punning B-movie title. Superlatively shot in expressionist black-and-white by Hamburg avant-gardist Heinz Emigholz, it has the mean, moody look of the threadbare dream sequence from a low-budget noir. (In its mixture of female introspection and tabloid Americana, COMMITTED is the unexpected missing link between MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON and SHOCK CORRIDOR.) But credible as the film is, its problems are all the more apparent. COMMITTED is too static; one wishes McLaughlin and Tillman had dared to be hokier – their script begs for superimposed flashbacks, spinning newspapers, and all the visual paraphernalia of the ‘40s psychological thriller. When it finally comes, the pair’s pop Freudianism is far more restrained: Frances has a dream in which, watching a performance of Waiting for Lefty, Odets takes, his play’s climactic-exhortation literally and strikes her. COMMITTED suffers from a lack of judicious sensationalism; unlike Farmer, the film seems afraid of mussing its hair. (Village Voice, New York, April 1985, „Hearing Voices” by J. Hoberman)