Saturday, November 25, 2006

Gunvor Nelson

Experimental filmmaker Gunvor Nelson came to campus last week for a screening of three very personal films: her tribute to her daughter My Name Is Oona (which the screening notes claim might be her best known film), the experimental mother/daughter/mother fiction Red Shift, and an absolutely devastating documentary portrait of her dying mother that I believe was called Mother. I'm not sure how representative these films are of the rest of her work, but her impressionistic, flowing montage is truly remarkable. And, I have to say, the experimental canon is such a boys' club, Nelson's films are a wonderful balance to the cumulative testosterone of her fellow filmmakers. Feminine without being overtly feminist, Nelson's more concerned with exploring ideas of immediate relevance to women without (explicitly) positioning her work against any conventions or traditions. My Name Is Oona and Mother are undoubtedly the most beautiful, affecting films of their kind that I've seen. There's something hypnotic in Nelson's images, and she's got a remarkable eye for the extreme close-up. The extreme close-up, used liberally in Red Shift, strikes me as a key technique to understanding her films, even if it was rarely used in the other two films last night. With Red Shift's magnified portraits of features and body parts, and Oona's endless, overlapping repetition of the name on the soundtrack, there's a sense in which Nelson's films fetishize the smallest, most tangible details (or at least they attempt to make these details tangible through the film) as a sort of defense mechanism, a way of understanding powerful and possibly painful relationships to her subjects (her daughter, her mother, aging, death) piece by piece, keeping them immediately comprehensible while allowing the montage to express the complexities and ambiguities (and the various inexpressibles) she feels towards them.

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