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FLAT IS BEAUTIFUL

USA, 1998 (MIFF 1999, Captured - Pixillated: The oblique vision of Sadie Benning)

Director: Sadie Benning

Taylor is a 12 year-old tomboy growing up in the 80s, the latch-key kid of a hard-working single mom and a self-obsessed and absent father. Emotionally and phys­ically caught between childhood and adolescence, time protracts and condenses as her world shifts between playground reality, nightmares, the endless banter of TV chat shows and the alien territories of video games. She tests out the limits of gender on Barbie and Mr T, her gay roommate Quiggy, and her girlie friend, Julie, of whom she asks the resounding question, "What am I then?"

Sadie Benning's direction is formally audacious, using the intimate image quality of Pixelvision to map Taylor's interior world, and setting this against the Super-8 reality of Milwaukee's decaying suburbia. Emotion is all the more realised for being hidden behind the exaggerated, cartoon-like masks worn by the actors. Acknowledging the influence of flat performances in Chantal Akerman films, Benning says in Film Comment, "The mask is a metaphor for what is going on under­neath. And in relationship to the ambiguity of Taylor's gender, this split between the head being a cartoon and the body being real makes the audience more attuned to body language."

Flat is Beautiful is a mature autobiographical work, looping in and out of moments from Benning's earlier, self-representational videos, using familiar motifs and the poetic, evocative camera that marks her domain. Positioned between the representalion of queer child­hood in Todd Haynes' Dollie Gets Spanked (1993) and the wildly dysfunctional adolescence of Harmony Korine's Gummo (1998), Flat is Beautiful is according to Film Comment, "filmmaking of the highest order".

See also...

It wasn't Love

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A New Year

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