Posts Tagged ‘film’

A touchy subject, even for the world of film

November 11, 2011

In a few days, D and I are headed to Amsterdam for the International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam (IDFA) where a film I took part in, “Love Addict,” will debut. And while I’m thrilled to once again be part of the art world, schmoozing with a great clique of writers, directors, producers and photographers, in Europe no less, I am a little leery.

For starters, the documentary is a topic of interest that might not be, how shall I put this, all that well received. It’s about weakness and that’s something some people have a hard time witnessing. People might laugh. We will, after all, be in Europe. “Oh those Americans,” they’ll say, “Always angst ridden and falling apart over the most luxurious and invented of possible problems.” And it’s true. Love addiction isn’t really about love or anything lofty like that. It’s not even about something as ugly yet facinating as being addicted to sex, meth, hoarding or any of the more lowbrow dysfunctions. It’s about the psychology of personal defense mechanisms and how that plays out in a person’s life. It’s about whining over not being loved, but feeling stuck and doing nothing about it because you don’t believe in yourself. Superficial, self-centered stuff that probably should have been dealt with at age 13, not 43.

And let’s face it. The documentary is not based on “real” suffering, in the broader sense, the kind you find in places like war-ravaged Iraq or Sierra Leone. We didn’t film a heated polemic on climate change or the impending doom of global food shortages. This is self-imposed, I can’t control my behavior stuff that causes suffering. It’s akin to over-eating, over-spending, gambling, drinking. It’s the addiction argument. We participate in these behaviors of over-indulgence and over-consumption and suffer the consequences, then wonder what the hell happened when we fall flat on our faces. We wonder how it got this bad. And why it can’t be stopped. So we call it a “disease.” Really, it’s like cancer; it spreads. Obsessing over that which we cannot have and putting up with bad behavior from others becomes the dominant response. It gets to the point where good judgment is lost. It gets to the point where a husband smacks his wife across the face. It gets to the point where she stays because she “loves” him. She stays “for the kids.” Or she stays because she’s scared to death to be alone.

Sure, people might snicker over my American sensibility for personal growth. And they might even get that uncomfortable feeling in the pit of their stomachs when the director toys with the idea of a woman who resorts to stalking a la Fatal Attraction, or another who dates a kid fifteen years her junior with no job and no real ability to handle an adult relationship, let alone take care of himself. Through most of the documentary, in fact, you find yourself asking, is this a real problem or do these people simply suck at managing their lives. In the beginning you feel like, clearly, anyone labeled a love addict is sick in the head. In the end, you wonder, “Could this be me?”

And that’s a good question.

Maybe the cultural dilemma of how men and women treat each other within a relationship is not as black and white as the media would have you think. Maybe love addiction is a lot subtler than the Hollywood version, or the battered woman version. Maybe the term “love addiction” is a misnomer, and it’s even more prevalent than alcoholism. You remember those statistics from the 80’s? In every family there’s at least one drunk. Or was that “jerk”? I can’t remember now. But I can tell you this: there’s tons of unhappy women suffering through bad relationships right now or stuck in a one-sided flimsy representation of one. It’s plague-ish, if you ask me. Take a good look at all your girlfriends. How many have stayed in a bad relationship or a bad marriage long past the point of dignity? That’s love addiction. How many settle for a “friends with benefits” situation in the hopes it turns into something more? That’s love addiction. How many men or women do you know that have had affairs and destroyed their families on the fantasy-based whim that love with this perfect new stranger will save their soul? That’s love addiction. And how about the hard-working career woman who finds it safer to date a married man, or one about 3000 miles away rather than go out and actually find someone close and available? That too, is love addiction.

It was just this past weekend that my Aunt came to a family party with proof that dating a bad boy is an epidemic among twentysomethings. She showed me a photo of my cousin N, a beautiful Paris-Hiltonish statuesque blond. She was pictured with a cute, smiling Italian guy. The first words out of my Aunt’s mouth were, “This guy is actually [emphasis mine] nice.” I.e. he’s not a f’ up like the previous ones.

It reminded me of my youth. I dated one bad boy after another. Each one ever so slightly less bad than the last. You’d think I’d be trading in behavioral traits in the hundreds instead of making microscopic improvements in increments of one. But were my bad dating decisions so far from the realm of what’s normal? I don’t think so. Sure, some of my friends dated good, kind, loving men who treated them well. But most couples in my circle had problems. And marriage didn’t leave you exempt from mismanaging your life. Marriage and love addiction are not mutually exclusive. And while having problems within a relationship is normal and unavoidable and by no means signifies that you or your partner are addicted to love, the degree to which those problems do exist and the length of time they last are your best indication that you are in a healthy relationship or that serious soul searching is in order.

But getting people to accept that idea is almost impossible. We all have preconceived notions of who we are and Unflattering Labels don’t really fit into our personal worldview, I’ll give you that. Who wants to be labeled a junkie? But remove the label and what have you got? Romeo and Juliet, is what you’ve got. The glamorization of painful, unhealthy love. So, does it really matter what the disease is called? Does it really matter if it’s a disease at all? The lessons are what’s priceless: love thyself, your body is a temple, you are a miracle, you have value, you deserve better than scraps, you need to grow up and get over the fact that life ain’t a Shakespeare play…

This documentary doesn’t offer those lessons. It should, but it doesn’t (it will have resources for how to get help on its website and DVD). What it does offer is the problem. And a socially acceptable glimpse at love addiction. Unlike self-help books, which, let’s be honest, are a bit embarrassing (no one wants to be seen checking out a copy of “ Women Who Love Too Much”), documentaries don’t imply there’s anything wrong with you. You can go to the theater and be a voyeur into the lives of others and you can freely and secretly gauge if this is something you need to investigate further. A documentary is a film. It’s art. And while you can certainly judge the participants of the film—and even laugh at them if you want—you cannot avoid recognizing yourself in their stories, if but in the smallest of ways.

And I guess that’s all I can hope for. That art can still inspire individuals to sustain judgment and think deeply about what this film implies. Not the sloppy Jerry Springerish implication of classless people getting paid wads of cash to beat the crap out of each other for entertainment. But the deeper implications of the human heart, and its delicate  and often feeble inability to always be strong.

THE DIVING BELL

January 3, 2009

Tonight I watched THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, the autobiographical story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, Editor-in-Chief of the French ELLE magazine who had a stroke at the age of 43 which paralyzed him. He was only able to communicate by blinking one eyelid and by doing so, dictated a book that was published a few days before his death in 1997. 

I cried throughout the entire film, fearing for my own life, my own sense of freedom and expression. What would I say if I knew I were about to go into a coma? If I were about to be paralyzed? Trapped in my own expressionless, motionless body. How would I feel human, alive, real? Would my children know I loved them? Would I be able to make peace with how far I have come, with how I have lived my life and what I have produced? The thought occurred to me that I can no longer take from the world. It is time to give back. It is time for my own voice. It is time to say something. To make a mark. To help. To heal. To work. It is time for my children to know, without a doubt that they are loved. It is time to produce something other than whiny, dramatic journal entries about my miserable life. 

It is no longer right of me to question my existence. It is no longer right of me to be unhappy or worse, ungrateful. To seek answers. There are no answers. That is the answer. Life is about giving. Caring. Loving. Sacrificing. 

I thought of being alive but unable to communicate. Unable to travel. Unable to love physically. Three things which are so important to me as a woman. Who would I be then? What might my existence mean? I would have hours for thinking. Wondering. Hating myself for all that I did not achieve. I would be faced with the realization that I was done. I didn’t have a second chance. I could not change anything anymore. I could no longer be a productive member of society. I could no longer hug my children. I could no longer tell them I loved them. I could no longer tie their shoes or pack their lunches or lie in bed and read with them. I could no longer scratch their heads or tickle their toes. Oh. I am miserably sad thinking like this. 

God! I do not want this to be my fate. 

I don’t normally suggest watching something so depressing. Believe me, this film is DEPRESSING. But it’s an amazingly beautiful film and worth watching if you are strong enough to sink for a while. 


A Girl’s Life (excerpt)

November 9, 2008

The below is a brief excerpt from the screenplay “A Girl’s Life,” a film about a girl’s coming of age as told by the girl through a rather shameful string of lovers and various bizarre events of her childhood that seem to lead no where but despair.

The film takes the audience through her whole life, from age five when she is approached walking home from school one afternoon by a loan shark who pins a note to her jacket that says, “We know where you live,” all the way to her late forties, through an ugly divorce, the death of her father and a slew of random events that change her life.  

The overall theme of the film is the girl’s tragic and irreverent inability to make peace with her father (an alcoholic bank robber) and to recognize the fact that she is a love addict– As she lives through it, suffers with it and learns what it is– she ultimately outgrows her old, deleterious beliefs about love, sex and men to become, for lack of a better term, real. 

Int. Church Basement

June and her father sit beside each other in a group meeting for Alcoholics. About 40 others sit in a circle in tiny chairs. Smoke from cigarettes is thick in the room.

(V.O) Narrator

My grades were always bad. I barely made it out of eighth grade into high school. And I spent a ton of time, by this point, attending AA meetings with my dad who was now a “recovering alcoholic” on the 12-step plan. He and I and a bunch of other seedy looking rehab guys would congregate in the cafeteria basement of the Pinelands church to hear “confessions” of all the miserable things the alcoholics did to everyone else and how they wrecked everyone’s lives. The room always smelled like coffee and stale smoke and men, and everyone was always laughing and telling jokes. My dad, being the narcissist that he was, would stand up and tell everyone how he too, wrecked our lives, and because his stories were so dramatically sensational as compared to everyone else’s bumbling crimes of neglect and the occasional car crash, the group idolized him. He was like, the famous bad guy who told tales of stealing million dollar oil paintings from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, kiting checks, and scamming investors into believing he was going to jump the grand canyon. I sat there beside him, the wreckage, so proud of how many people applauded. I felt like the daughter of a movie-star.

My mother, who went to the Al-Anon meetings down the hall (for the families of alcoholics) used to think it was a bit odd that the ones who caused all the trouble were having more fun than the victims. The victims called themselves co-dependents, and sat in a circle holding hands, reading from books entitled, I’m OK, You’re OK , Co-Dependant No More and Women Who Love Too Much. Women mostly. Telling sad, pathetic stories that included words like, “pain” and “disappointment” and “longing” and “loss.”  Trying to pick up the broken pieces of their lives. It made no sense. It was all too intangible. So I stayed in my dad’s meetings. More boys, more laughs, more donuts. Stories were told there too, but they were concrete. First person. Visual. Action words. I smacked her. I stole the money. I ran out of the house and left her. I crashed the car. I couldn’t stop. No use for metaphor. My mother even agreed that I’d have far more fun over in his meetings.

Cut to

Int- Church hallway

Mother

“No, honey. You go on over there. Our meeting tonight is only focusing on how to break free from a co-dependent relationship without divorcing.

June (smiling)

Thanks, Mom.

(V.O.) Narrator 

I didn’t even know what co-dependent meant. And besides, I loved being with the bad ones. There was just something about a 16-year-old boy sipping coffee out of styrophome cup and telling a room of drunks that he’d do just about anything for a bottle of JD and a George Thorogood song. And besides, Curt Jones had a drinking problem.

Cut to:

Close up shot of a seedy looking 16-year-old kid with a cigarette between his lips and a styrophome cup, looking into camera.

 (V.O.) Narrator (con’t)

Curt Jones. My first. The man of my dreams.

Skinny little, half-Italian Curt Jones with the Members Only black jacket and the parachute pants. [Sigh]. I don’t know if he made me fall in love with Prince first or if Prince made me fall in love with Curt. Either way, they both went together like purple and rain. I was awakened and ready for both. Although, looking back, Prince loved me far more than Curt.

Cut to:

Int- girl’s bedroom

Steamy, low-lit scene of girl making out with framed picture of Prince to “Do Me Baby” playing loudly on her record player.

On Meeting Pernille

November 7, 2008

So G and I went up to Princeton on Wednesday and met Pernille (see below for more information) and her lovely assistant Gina. My only regret was that I did not take pictures. I could shoot myself for that. But anyway…it was absolutely lovely.

We had lunch at the Alchemist & Barrister, a place G plays at every Wednesday night. The four of us talked and talked and talked and by one in the afternoon, we were sitting on the lawn of Princeton University, hooked up with mics, telling the camera of our old romance and what it has been like for me to be a love addict. Possibly the nicest thing that came out of it all (as there’s no guarantee that we will be chosen to continue in her project) was the tenderness that G exposed for me in front of strangers and the camera. At one point I began to cry and he hugged me, and said, it’s OK, T. There I was, vulnerable, revealing horribly embarrassing secrets about myself in front of him and he accepted it all. It has pretty much always been that way between us, and yet…we have never been able to overcome our difference. Those four pesky issues of his that I cannot seem to accept in my life. Nor probably ever will.

Anyway, I believe Pernille and Gina were pleased with what they caught on tape. At one point, tears filled Pernille’s eyes as I talked about what love addiction “feels like.” I likened it to that old video we all saw back in high school psychology class…the experiment with the three monkeys. One was raised by his mum, another by a surrogate clorox bottle covered in fur that rocked, and a third was raised his whole life with only a plastic clorox bottle, food and water. Isolated since birth, he did not even a blanket for warmth. The poor little thing sat in its cage and rocked back and forth, holding onto itself, whimpering and eventually died very early. I said, that’s what it feels like.

She asked us questions like “how did you two meet?” “why did you break up?” “why do you think you were addicted to each other?” and so on. They laughed at the way we still share food. The way we touch each other. How we smiled and laughed while we were together. They wanted to know the exact time-line of our affair.

Well, we dated three years. Sort of. There was MB in there for awhile and then, of course, S. Not to mention Carmela, the fifty-something-year-old, married waitress from the diner who’s madly in love with G. A lot of players circling around us. But most peculiar is that G and I are NOT dating, nor have we dated since January, 2007. So as far as time-lines go, it’s not a straight line like time to a Westerner. It’s more circular, like Dakota time or Cherokee time.

“We never fight,” G said. “We love each other but just cannot seem to get past certain things.” That’s easy for him to say.

He’s talking about vices. His vices, and how I can’t accept the lovely miss Mary Jane in my life. And there are other barriers as well. Things I won’t go into here. Things that I finally realized made for a bad partnership.

When you have things such as strong communication, healthy emotion, music, a shared love of many things, humor and mutual love and respect, it makes it really hard to walk away. But there’s a balancing act that “normal” people seem to do. They take all those good things and say, “that’s great, but I can’t put up with the bad stuff.” Normal people look at the whole picture. A love addict can’t do that. She sees only what she wants to see. She overlooks the bad and then regrets it and 2 years down the road she says, “what the hell am I doing? I’ve been starving myself and for what?”

A love addict takes that man and does not accept him as just a man. She turns him into Christ. God. Her Savior. And then when he abandons her, she repeats over and over, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

She takes on his identity and then wonders what to do when he is not in her presence, a la Scarlet O’Hara, “Oh Rhett! What’ll I do? Where’ll I go?”

Worst of all, she forgets who she is. Submersed in the very heart of that man, she loses her values, her opinions, her boundaries, her likes and dislikes. She loses her soul.

And then when she wakes up one day and says I gotta get the hell out of here, she realizes she’s got no where to go. So she stays.  The man is not a man anymore. The man is a “hit,” of her drug. He is her defense mechanism. Her way out of her ugly life. The man is not a man anymore. He is a tool used to suppress pain and to avoid reality at all cost. And thus, he begins to define her addiction.

The last question Pernille, or rather, Gina posed was, “how did you get over this addiction? What inside you changed to make you see the light, so to speak?”

Oh yes. Hallelujah. The light. The conclusion. Well, I am not addicted to G anymore. Nor anyone else for that matter. But God never came down and parted the seas and said to me, T, it’s time to change…and I never saw this bright shining light nor had my moment of spiritual surrender. My path was a little less dramatic than that, and a little more boring. It was a long road. G helped me get through a lot by remaining my friend. My ex S helped me get through a lot. But mostly, I came to terms with being alone, slowly. Day by day.

When S and i split, I literally locked myself in my room and cried for 5 days. I did not eat. I did not move. I did nothing. I raised the dead (in me, that is). I made peace with the emptiness. I said over and over again, it’s high time that this moment has come. It’s here now. You’ve been waiting for it. Seize it. And I did. I did so by doing nothing. And I got used to it. And though I entered into that state confused and scared and fearful of being alone, I came out the other end OK. And that was that. My moment. You see, that’s what it’s all about for a love addict or an alcoholic or drug addict or anyone else for that matter with serious defense mechanisms. We try to avoid the emptiness at all costs. We’ll do anything to avoid the pain of reality. And eventually, it catches up with you and says, “it’s time.”

But the hard work had begun years ago when I first met G, and it continues today. I came to terms with my own personal values and I began to find my own identity for the first time. I made boundaries and I upheld them. I demanded better things for myself. I sought out people who tended to share more of my values. Mostly, I realized my worth. Plain and simple. And the only way to do that was and still is in solitude. It is in the solitude that you have your own thoughts, uncluttered. You have no where to turn but inward. You can finally see your identity clearly.

Alice Walker in the The Color Purple has this great line: “you gotta git man off your eyeball before you can see anything at all.” And the only way to do that is find god. Find you. Make peace with the nothingness.

We left by 2:30 and hugged and they were off to NYC and then LA. Traveling across the country to meet possibly hundreds of others with similar issues as me. Their project is vast and I may never see or hear from them again, and yet…they truly touched my life. Pernille’s project is my project. My life. It represents the struggle I have undergone as an artist to accomplish something for myself. And seeing her joy and hard work, it has inspired me to continue with my own projects and my own writing.

I hope to keep posting on this topic. And to keep doors open…

About Pernille:

Acclaimed director Pernille Rose Grønkjær (born in 1973) has been working with documentary films for the past 10 years. Her latest feature documentary “The Monastery – Mr. Vig and the Nun” had its US premiere at the esteemed Sundance Film Festival 2007. Since then the film has travelled to about 60 festivals the world over. It has won 14 awards from Sydney to Moscow, including the prestigious Joris Ivens Award in Amsterdam, and recently The Cinema Eye Award in New York. The film was also nominated for best documentary at The Spirit Awards in Los Angeles, California 2008.
The Monastery, by  Pernille Rose Grønkjær