Over the past few days I’ve been teaching my recent writing about fake docs on YouTube to my Media Studies seniors, while thinking a lot about THE OWLS (and reading Trans Theory, more on this below) and chatting with my friend and colleague, Jennifer Friedlander, on her recent writing on art-world scams and reality-TV shams, as inflected by Lacan and Zizek. It’s enough to make a girl’s head swim with delight, below some avenues of flight (please, please, please respond, these ideas are new, and dangerous, and open to change):

While we were making THE OWLS, Campbell X, our “sound-man” (she’s a talented British director in her own right) noted in one of our talking-head interviews (the crew and cast were interviewed across the production about the themes and meta-themes of the film: queer cinema and identity, lesbian culture, aging, and the like) that as an English-woman of Caribbean descent she found it important that the two black characters in the film (played by Cheryl Dunye and Skyler Cooper) respectively, were not NAMED as black in the screenplay. The B-team (shooting the “documentary” component of the film), myself, Mariah Garnett and Rhys Ernst discussed (on camera) with Campbell the productive potential for unknowing in such post-identity moves.

Skyler and Lisa, Sky and Lily, THE OWLS

Skyler and Lisa, Sky and Lily, THE OWLS

How could we guess the complex intellectual, artistic, and political ripples that would surface just the next day upon the visit to our set of theorist and activist Jack Halberstam to engage the cast in discussions of trans vs. butch identity and politics. For it came to our attention that the film’s six characters were also unnamed in relation to their gender/sexuality identification, although, given Cheryl’s interests, the assumption was that all the characters were probably women, who were lesbians, and mostly butch. Just so, it turned out that Skyler chose to play her character Skye, as an androgynous looking but female identified woman, just as she chooses to enact herself.

Some of the B-team, Rhys and Mariah, THE OWLS

Some of the B-team, Rhys and Mariah, THE OWLS

And here the so-called “generational divide” presented itself, on one “side,” the nostalgic celebration of the lesbian or female or feminist, on the other the seeking for gender and sexual unmooring. During Jack’s talking head interview, he identified as “transgenderd butch” and then suggested that trans-people still need to be named (or counter-intuitively moored) because unknowing leaves them unseen, as fresh and fragile and mostly invisible is this position, even as post-trans theory hopes for the differences between performativity and materiality, the image and the body to remain unfastened and unfixed.

Carol, Cheryl, THE OWLS (all photos by Love)

Carol, Cheryl, THE OWLS (all photos by Love)

Which brings the theoretical and political concerns that I’ve been toying with her, most recently, to a certain sort of front and center. Unknowing and unnaming, like any tactics or forms, are only relevant in relation to goals, communities, bodies, and practices. They too must at times float and at others be fixed. While the unknowing of race is liberating for Cheryl, Skyler and Campbell, the unnaming of trans silences for Jack, Mariah, Rhys and Deak Evgenikos. The ironic free-fall I’ve been thinking about lately, the place where the difference between the “real” and the “fake,” the known and the unknowable, the fixed and the uncertain are indeterminate is an unproductive place of muddle (if perhaps fleeting fun) until it is attached to something that matters: a stake in the future. A stake, which signifies the hard, mean and cutting over the soft, drab, and unmoving (of say the anchor).

As we discussed in class yesterday, while it once seemed enough to work towards a future where people learned that there was a critical distance between themselves and the “objective” or “ideological” productions of dominant culture, this knowledge, so obviously secured in what Friedlander identifies as the contemporary audience’s “knowing very well but even so” is not enough if it occurs in isolation, as an end in itself, unlinked to a body, a movement, or best of all, a project of becoming.

Lisa and Campbell, THE OWLS (photo by Love)

Lisa and Campbell, THE OWLS (photo by Love)

Whereas in my recent writing I had been wanting an anchor (to the “Real,” or what Zizek calls “the shock of the truth”), I now reconsider this to be an attachment and a commitment to a dream of a better reality.

Making THE OWLS

August 20, 2009

Earlier this summer I decided to produce Cheryl Dunye’s new feature film THE OWLS, an experimental thriller about four older-wiser-lesbians who accidentally kill a young lesbian and try to get away with it. The film is an homage to dark sixties psychological dramas where lesbians often die in the end: The Fox, Killing of Sister George, Muriel, the work of Patricia Highsmith. We shot the “workshops” last weekend (where the esteemed cast improvised from the script, aligning their characters with their own life stories and making sense of the place of murder, alcoholism, infertility and other Highsmithian tones in their “real” lives). For instance, Guinevere Turner and VS Brodie, Go-Fish-sweeties extrordinaire, re-visited their past highs and lows, on and off-screen, to get into their new couple, the troubled ex-rockers, Iris and Lily.

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The workshop was also when the B-unit (producing the documentary components of the film), which I am over-seeing, got rolling. We met (and shot) all the actors as themselves and their characters (as well as the spaces in-between), and interviewed much of the pared-down crew as well (the film is a micro-budget homage to the community spirit, and we’re-making-a-film-because-we want-to ways of early new queer cinema). We discussed issues of relevance to both the thriller-narrative and documentary components of the film: aging, inter-generational interaction within the queer community, the meanings of post-racial representation, tensions between butches and transgenderd members of the community (and crew), the legacy of nineties cinema. It was personal, political, and cinematic. A mix I love.

We shoot the rest of the film over five days this weekend. Yikes. More follows.

PS: The film features other queer cult-stars: Skyler Cooper, Lisa Gornick, Deak Evgenikos. Meanwhile, icons-in-their-own-rights like Jack Halberstam and Sarah Schulman took their parts as butch-consultant ans screenwriter, respectively. Everyone’s working for free. It’s a real family affair.