Unreal Nature

November 19, 2015

We Listeners, a Half Century Later

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… And in those moments I do not cut away.

This is from the author’s interview with Jane Gillooly in Avant-Doc: Intersections of Documentary and Avant-Garde Cinema by Scott MacDonald (2015):

[ … ]

MacDonald: How did you come to be in possession of the tapes that form the basis for Suitcase of Love and Shame?

Gillooly: I was looking for collections. I’d been researching a film about a collection of objects that had been assembled over a long period — the concept being to trace the sources and significance of the objects and interpret their imbedded meaning within a contemporary context. …

My friend Albert Steg, who knew what I was thinking about, discovered the suitcase on eBay in December of 2009. He shared the discovery with me and asked if I wanted him to place a bid. I did, of course, and no none bid against me.

MacDonald: What was in that suitcase? How much tape material, and what else?

Gillooly: Approximately 60 hours of audio material — most of it was Tom and Jeannie … And there were photographs and slides in the suitcase, and letters, phone bills, photo processing and audiotape receipts, name tags, matchbook covers, a bottle opener.

[ … ]

Gillooly: … The feeling that I was eavesdropping was something I wanted to retain in the film. When I was digitizing a tape, I couldn’t stop the tape recorder for fear of damaging the tape, so I listened to many extremely banal conversations, as well as to Tom’s and Jeannie’s expressions of the excruciating pain they were in. At times I was so affected by what one of them was doing that I physically had to move away from my desk. In the film I spared the audience the full-on experience of the emotional trauma as well as the dreadfully boring repetitions. No one needs to hear Jeannie cry for 30 minutes straight …

Gillooly_Tom1

[ … ]

MacDonald: Suitcase is harrowing to sit through, both alone and especially with an audience. What has been your experience of the audiences who have seen the film?

Gillooly: I find myself admitting to audiences that I felt as uncomfortable listening to the tapes the first time, as I make them feel. The material is so startlingly real that it can be unsettling. Tom and Jeannie were often performing for the tape recorder but at the same time they were inventing a form.

There is also a very sad quality that comes across as Tom and Jeannie become resigned to the inevitable end of the affair. I know the audience relates to the human emotion in their recordings and the fact that the couple does not disguise the pain they are in. And in those moments I do not cut away. The recordings were made in a uniquely unselfconscious state with the goal of reaching out to another human being — the lover — so much so that we listeners, a half century later, can feel as though they are speaking directly to us, that we are in the room with them.

[line break added] Yet we know that Tom and Jeannie never expected these tapes to be heard by anyone. In these moments of pure despondency, when they do not mask their feelings of utter misery, my heart at least is breaking for them.

I believe it is this, the sadness of it all, coupled with the way the film forces the audience to face, within a public sphere, their own feelings about privacy and regret that causes some audience members to challenge my use of the tapes.

My most recent previous post from MacDonald’s book is here.

-Julie

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