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  • Film Stills from My Work:Looking at Women and Men
  • Bette Gordon (bio)

My films have always focused on the visual aspects of storytelling. I've been drawn to stories in which color, texture, and mood are as central to the narrative as character and plot. In VARIETY (US, 1984), my early feature, I linked my visual approach to subject matter. VARIETY is a film about looking, seduction, and voyeurism. I used frames within frames, windows, doorways, and reflections in order to visually capture the idea of looking and being looked at. Luminous Motion (US, 2000) visualizes a young boy's subjective world of motion and sensation as he fights to hold on to the bond with his renegade mother. I have used visual stylization as a way of bringing us closer to the characters and emotions.

In Handsome Harry (US, 2010), I reversed my approach in order to create an honest and personal character film. Striving to reach a deeper side of human behavior, I let the camera be guided by performance so that scenes unfolded organically, without forcing or dictating the pace. I wanted to capture a raw, emotional feeling in the film, not a fixed set of behaviors. Faces, bodies, and voices guided the composition of the image. The perpetual search of the camera to find moments of discomfort is key to my understanding of Harry as a character in motion, striving to come to terms with himself as a man.

The Drowning (US, 2017) embraces the idea of landscape as character, a reflection of the fragility and darkness of the human soul. Visually, there's a wintry, muted palette here, a by-play of monochromatic exterior and sterile interiors. The film uses this setting to probe the status of characters who test the limits of conventional morality. [End Page 152]

What is evident in all my work is a sense of landscape, a geographical grounding of images and characters in the locations I've depicted. More than backdrops, the landscape becomes an essential storytelling device, from a neon-lit street corner in VARIETY to the seduction of the open road in Luminous Motion, the de-saturated memories lingering in the navy ship in Handsome Harry, and the steely water where both characters plunge into the liquid void in The Drowning. [End Page 153]


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Figure 1.

Luminous Motion


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Figure 2.

VARIETY

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Figure 3.

Luminous Motion


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Figure 4.

Luminous Motion

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Figure 5.

"Greed"


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Figure 6.

VARIETY

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Figure 7.

"Greed"


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Figure 8.

Handsome Harry

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Figure 9.

The Drowning


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Figure 10.

The Drowning

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Bette Gordon

Bette Gordon is a director and independent filmmaker best known for her 1984 film VARIETY, a beautifully seductive film with a script by Kathy Acker about a woman who works as a ticket taker at a pornographic movie theatre. Her next feature, Luminous Motion, was produced by Good Machine's Ted Hope and Anthony Bregman and released in 2000. In 2009, Gordon's Handsome Harry premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and opened theatrically to rave reviews. Her recent feature, The Drowning (2016), is a suspense thriller based on the novel Border Crossing by award-winning British author Pat Barker. Gordon's films have been shown in major international festivals including Cannes Director's Fortnight, Berlin, Toronto, Locarno, Rotterdam, Sao Paulo, Lisbon, Warsaw, and Tribeca. Kevin Thomas of The Los Angeles Times claims, "Gordon's way with storytelling is as impeccable as ever." Her short films have won awards and festival acclaim, including screenings at New York's Museum of Modern Art and The Whitney Biennial, as well as prizes at The Chicago International Film Festival and the Atlanta Festival of Film and Video.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-7989
Print ISSN
0306-7661
Pages
pp. 152-158
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-05
Open Access
No
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