What are your top ten books?
Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel
Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski
The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington
The Witches by Roald Dahl
Hollywood Flatlands: Animation Critical Theory and the Avant Guard by Esther Lesie
The Lost Girls by Alan Moore and Melinda Gibbie
Undoing Gender by Judith Butler
I Love Dick by Chris Kraus
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire by Eric Berkowitz
You're currently making an animation about female sexuality. How did you go about conducting research for this project?
The research stage for Bloom (that’s the name of the animation I’m making) was the most prolific literary adventure of any of the films I’ve ever made. I had a lot of questions when I started so I read a lot, and what I learned from the reading went on to inform the script for the film. The initial question came from a quote by Oscar Wilde;
‘Everything in life is about sex, except for sex, which is about power’
I became obsessed with trying to figure out what this meant, and it if it was true. My friend Rosie referred me to Esther Perel, who I think is one of the most profound writers on sexuality today, also Chris Kraus and Bell Hooks were writers I discovered through conversations with friends and acquaintances. I also found inspiring books in strange places, like the Sex and Punishment book which my Dad had left on his coffee table. After a while, I decided to formalize my questioning by doing audio interviews. This way I managed to obtain some very colorful narratives which informed a lot of the dialogue for the film. When I moved to California from London in 2015, I went on a weekend long Tantra workshop taught by Margot Anand, an ‘orgasmic woman’ with some amazing stories and deep wisdom on sexuality. After that I decided that it had been three years of research and since as I was not studying for a PhD, I was going to begrudgingly draw a line under my research and begin making the film. This didn’t really work however because whenever I got stuck I would just pick up a book for inspiration. Such a moment came along with Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are, who’s use of metaphor, humor and intellect sorted out the beginning of my film. The book which really brought my whole film into focus however, was The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington. After compiling pages of notes and hours of interviews I had a loose narrative thread, but it was a bit dry and I was worried about some very long monologues. Leonora Carrington is a surrealist painter and writer with a story of her own. She lived and worked with other surrealists such as Andre Breton and Max Ernst in Paris for several years, but during the 2nd World War she was forced to flee to Mexico where she started the women’s liberation movement. The Hearing Trumpet is her most well-known book which is about an elderly woman who is sent to an old people’s home by her family, and gets up to all kinds of mischief while being decidedly opinionated. Carrington is a wonderfully visual writer and the surreal, occult imagery in The Hearing Trumpet provided me with the visual cues I needed to finish pre-production on Bloom. It also contains some very long entertaining monologues, so I decided this was not a bad thing. These are women with a lot to say.
I kept forgetting that after Bruce triumphs over the headmistress, she retaliates by smashing a china platter over his head. I forgot about the exchange at the beginning of the chapter: Matilda’s friend, Lavender, still dumbfounded by the multiple reports of injury inflicted on students by faculty, insists that if it were her getting knocked around by a teacher, her father would certainly have something to say about it; Matilda’s regrettably astute response: “He simply wouldn’t believe you…. Your story would sound too ridiculous to be believed. And that is the Trunchbull’s great secret. Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbelievable. No parent is going to believe this…story, not in a million years. Mine wouldn’t. They’d call me a liar.”
It probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that Roald Dahl himself was sent away to boarding school as a child, a place where he suffered vicious abuse. It’s not a stretch to imagine that perhaps the beatings were so outrageous that he wasn’t believed when he brought these painful tales home, either. Even as a young reader, my interpretation of Matilda had been colored by my own scope of reality—I’d thought the entire story a bit fantastical, macabre, and charming, fortunately far removed as I was from the sorts of non-fictional environments that’d inspired the story.
I thought about this proverbial realm of possibility again when, weeks later, I read an investigative report on the decades of systemic abuse in a Burlington, Vermont orphanage. The details were so completely crazy that it would be easy to call them unbelievable—in fact, they were deemed just that—if the evidence and corroborating testimonies weren’t there. The victims were called liars, too. In a way, I suppose it wouldn’t make a difference whether Matilda was published in 1943, 1988, or 2018—it resonates—with children and adults, the disenfranchised and the powerful, the lucky and less fortunate—because it paints a picture of the world that acknowledges darkness and light, sweetness and evil. It’s not ideal, but it remains relevant.