“This was no Well of Loneliness”
Screengrab from Ladies Almanack trailer. Via.
Why make a film together?
STEPHANIE ACOSTA: Daviel and I are both multidisciplinary, but she is first and foremost a filmmaker. I think all her work has a touch of the cinema in it. And I would say the same is true of me. Everything comes back to performance in some way or another. Maybe it’s about first languages.
This film was introduced to me through its zygote self: the film within the film contained by Shy’s thesis, The Tyrant. My partner James Tate was Assistant Director on the project, and I did some consulting and art direction but at the time I was also focused on a multi-part series for my own thesis work, Unintended Structures 2014. So I met this writing through the eyes of Daviel’s excitement, which is a pretty great door to walk into anything through.
Around that same time I think I read the whole Ladies Almanack in my studio, across the hall from Daviel. I asked her to let me know if she wanted to make that film. She told me the whole wish: the dream of Cixous, and Myles narrating; everything. And I was like, OK. If you want to make that film, I’d produce it. She grabbed my arm in that grip she has, where you know you should be crossing the street or listening close, and said, “Really?!!”
One moment I remember clearly: we were lying down on the grey wood slats of her studio floor like kids, and she talked me through the whole thing, and I just thought, Man, that would be so great. I bet if we did this with everyone we wanted, they would want to be in it too. Then I reminded her I didn’t know squat about raising money, and that I had produced a lot of my own work, large scale and all, but production wasn’t really what I did. Anyway, we started then, I think. In my mind it started then.
DAVIEL SHY: I was struck by The Ladies Almanack because it is the most lesbian thing I’ve ever read. This was no Well of Loneliness, bargaining for acceptance from some unseen father, though it was published in the same year (1928) and featured one of the same models (Barney). Barnes’s book is funny and stylish and sexy and bizarre. It pushes conventions of style and propriety, but from the perspective of those in the know. It is a giant unapologetic wink. Barney’s circle was certainly not the only lesbian game in town, for instance Claude Cahun and Gertrude Stein chose very different ways to be queer artists in twentieth century Paris.
But Barnes was smart in choosing Natalie Barney as a way to speak about the “condition that is woman.” Natalie’s group is set apart for their unrelenting female-centricity. Natalie as a locus is interesting, ‘cause she didn’t want to convince anyone of anything. She just made trouble and fun by putting everyone together and stirring. This film is like that: unrelentingly female-centric, but otherwise incredibly diverse. My own lesbian-centricity has been met with occasional resistance, but welcomed resistance! I am told that my interest is too narrow, but I think sometimes the focus has got to be narrow, even as the audience is broad. I run a monthly movie night called L.M.N.O.P: Lesbian Movie Night Ongoing Project. Strictly lesbians onscreen, but anyone can be on the couch. Politically speaking, maybe being on that couch is what makes you a lesbian?
In 1976, Hélène Cixous wrote, “Knock the wind out of the codes. We will rethink womankind beginning with every form and every period of her body. The Americans remind us, We are all Lesbians; that is, don’t denigrate woman, don’t make of her what men have made of you.” I hear echoes of Cixous in Barnes, even though chronology would say the reverse. But reading is outside of chronos and we, in 2016, will be readers of this film.