- The Films of MM Serra:Art(core) and the Explicit Body
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"Mary Magdalene" is separate from you, but comes from you. It is a brilliant, explosive, fierce, and passionate gem, the kind that catches light but can also cut. As I said last night, the woman's body is there to contain and resist; she fights the frame and ideology all at the same time, forcing us to think about how images of the body both seduce and confuse us at every turn. The film does not offer easy answers but rather stirs us to move through the world so much more aware. A film about touching that no one can touch.—Lynne Sachs1
I, MM Serra, have since 1982 created over twenty-four short experimental documentary films. Over the last four decades, through my creation of films such as Turner (1987), L'Amour Fou (1992), Darling International (1999, co-directed with Jenn Reeves), Chop Off (2009), Bitch-Beauty (2011), Enduring Ornament (2015, co-directed with Josh Lewis), and Mary Magdalene (2017), I have explored my personal vision in moving image making by focusing on explicit content with a variety of aesthetics and techniques.
Not having a camera or access to film equipment, I had the good fortune to be able to study filmmaking with a pioneer of the American avant-garde film scene Shirley Clarke in 1982 at UCLA. My first six films were created in Los Angeles while I studied with Clarke and were cinematic exercises in creating one-minute films about light and shadow and movement. In my early film Turner, sexuality is expressed through the film's star, blonde Marilyn Monroe-esque C. [End Page 135] Breeze, who is reading her poetry. The lyrics of her poetry are part of a dream about her dog, Turner, eagerly licking her nude body, after she put lotion on herself (canine sex). The film is layered with superimpositions and C. Breeze's use of blue-tinted fabrics. These early films from the 1980s serve as an indication of themes I would explore more explicitly in my later works, after I moved to New York in 1987.
My mother, Josephine, named me Mary Magdalene (MM) for the only woman disciple of Jesus in the Christian New Testament. I think she was prescient; she knew deep down that the mythology of Mary Magdalene had a double life and multiple meanings. For many Christians, MM has a reputation as a repentant prostitute or loose woman. I have been inspired by this dichotomy throughout my life. As a girl growing up in a small, factory-based town in Western Pennsylvania in the mid twentieth century, I realized that my name was iconoclastic then and still is today.
In June 2018, in response to Stormy Daniels's allegations, Donald Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani said, "I respect all human beings. I even have to respect criminals. But I'm sorry, I don't respect a porn star the way I respect a career women or a women of substance or a woman who has great respect for herself as a woman and as a person and isn't going to sell her body for sexual exploitation." Even now, at the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century, a woman within the heteronormative system who uses her body in a sexual manner is demonized and censored. Ever since my early childhood, this name Mary Magdalene has propelled me to stand outside the conventional institutions. By resisting normative paradigms in regards to the art I should create, the clothing I should wear, the films I should watch, the food I should eat, and the life I should lead, I am shaping my existence as a woman and as a filmmaker, using my own terms and initiatives.
In childhood, looking at images of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel in my mother's Italian Bible, I was awestruck by the beauty of the colorful, voluptuous bodies. I wanted to be Michelangelo using photography and filmmaking, creating not just the celestial bodies, but the body in all of...