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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...

The Judy Spots

A five-part animated video for an MTV special on women's health issues. Integrating puppets, drawings, cut-outs, video and masking techniques, Benning cre­ates a pocket-size geography permeated ... More »

It wasn't Love

In her earlier work, Benning develops a filmic language that tests and gives provisionary representation to the very intimate world of her bedroom, and what it means to be Sadie growing up (and out) ... More »

A New Year

Benning's dazzling first work began as a bedroom exper­iment with the PXL 2000. A pastiche of image and sound fast becomes a lucid commentary on adolescent isola­tion in a poor Milwaukee ... More »

LOUIS AND FRANK

Alexandre Rockwell excels at well constructed, intelligent comedy, typically made with unusual but highly successful casting choices. Louis & Frank is a comedy about two very different cousins who ... More »

Millennium Bug

Millennium Bug explores satirical definitions for a decayed millennium. Words such as "jork" are defined as "any variety of genetically tailored meat product" and the accompanying vision shows a ... More »

WINDHORSE

Filmmakers often construct dangerous scenes or situa­tions within their project but rarely do they undertake an entire shoot that places them in personal jeopardy. Director Paul Wagner along with ... More »

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