Wednesday, October 23, 2013

REVIEW: Goddess Film by Antero Alli

The Book of Jane, an Antero Alli Film (Vertical Pool 2013), 117 minutes. Written and Directed by Antero Alli; Cinematography by Antero Alli.  Also available as a DVD.

As this intriguing film opens, the wind blows, a raven calls, and a Crone-like woman in black coat, jeans, and dark blue cap walks with the aid of a walking stick made from a tree limb. With a backpack and attached baby doll dressed in red, the woman limps around a college campus,  We may not be sure if what she is saying is coherent, but it is poetic: “The world is a busy place, a very very busy place. The world is in the business of consuming the planet. But the planet has other plans. The world is burning. The world is burning with the business, the busy business of saving the planet. But the world is not the planet and the planet does not need saving….Gaia is calling the shots now….” The woman continues her soliloquy for a bit, and then laughs and laughs.

Possibly related to the word “Book” in its title, this film is divided into chapters. As Chapter 1, “Signs and Omens” proceeds, the woman, Jane (Luna Olcott), speaks of “Mother Rhea” and goes beneath a bridge that spans a brook. As she takes a nap, we share the first of the wonderful dream sequences in this film, this one with music from the beautiful Ad Astra by contemporary composer Marie-Anne Fischer. In Chapter 2, “The Muse and Her Artist,” we meet two blonde women in their apartment, one a few years older than the other. The younger woman reveals a portrait she has just completed and set on what could be considered an altar. The portrait shows the slightly older woman as a crowned Goddess. We are then taken back to Jane sitting on a campus bench. She prays to Morpheus as she takes pain pills and tells of her first-born and only child, Brigit. Elsewhere on the campus, we see the older of the two blonde women sitting on a bench. Jane notices her but at first passes her by to pick up a feather, which she appears to listen to. She then turns around and brings the feather to her lips before speaking to the woman on the bench, who introduces herself as Alice (Marianne Shine). Alice explains she is a professor of comparative religious studies. Jane asks for the topic of her dissertation. At first Alice tries to dodge the question by saying she is busy, but Jane persists, and Alice replies, “Ancient Goddess Mythologies: PreHellenic Era.” As the conversation continues, Alice refers to Jane as “homeless.” But Jane says that she prefers the term “nomadic.” Jane also mentions the pain she’s in is related to the fact that she “can’t shit….it’s all backed up.” Alice continues to alternate between being fascinated with and being impatient with Jane, but eventually is won over by her knowledgeable and wise remarks, which include, “Goddess never advertises.” Though clearly quite intelligent and informed, Jane speaks mostly from the heart. Alice approaches, or tries to approach, matters intellectually. To me this conversation is the start of a theme related to an issue that has interested me for some time: the intellectual approach to Goddess studies compared with the experiential approach to understanding Goddess. Is it a comparison or is it a conflict? Does the intellectual focus on Goddess studies in a university (or other setting), which, though it establishes the legitimacy of anthropology, archeology, and history of Goddess veneration, detract from our deeply experiencing Goddess? Can we have both? This theme continues, often subtly, throughout the film.

Chapter 3,”What Other People Eat,” begins with Jane sitting on an alley pavement, her bare shaved head against a red brick building, thinking about food. The scene then shifts to Alice and her housemate and partner, Colette (Madeline H.D. Brown). In their apartment, Alice tells Colette about meeting Jane, who she describes as being in her 60s and “the most interesting woman.”  The scene then switches back to Jane, who is struggling to walk along the street. She forages for food in the trash, then eats her meal. Alice spots Jane rinsing her eating utensils in the brook. In Chapter 4, “The Conjuring,” Jane is in the woods performing ritual magick. She apparently doesn't notice one of Alice’s students, Tom (Nathan Rosquist), sitting nearby, reading. Alice has been rather impatient with him and has given him additional assignments. As Jane’s ritual work progresses, Tom puts his book aside and begins to take pictures of her activities. In Chapter 5, “I am You in the Future,” (whose title is based on one of Jane's comments to Alice), Jane mulls over the history of Goddess veneration, with an accompanying focus on her Brigit doll. Alice and Jane meet up again on campus and talk about patriarchy and religion and about Alice’s plans to turn her dissertation into a book. Jane asks to see the book treatment proposal and once Alice allows her to hold it, she immediately takes charge, marking it up in red pen and giving Alice additional editorial and linguistic suggestions. In Chapter 6, “The Invitation,” Colette and Alice discuss the pros and cons of inviting Jane over for dinner. Garbed in white, Alice sits for another portrait as Colette paints. The scene shifts to Jane on campus, telling Brigit doll that she needs to go to the hospital for “neuro-electrical stimulation of the sacrum.” After her treatment at the hospital, Jane returns to her place under the bridge, and Alice invites her to dinner.

Chapter 7, “Phantom Queen, Great Queen” begins with another marvelous dream sequence as Jane sleeps. This dream is of the Morrighan (Morpheus Ravenna). When Jane awakes, she confides her interpretation of the  dream to her Brigit doll. At dinner with Alice and Colette, the women discuss whether the three of them could be considered representations of the Triple Goddess, with Jane as Crone, Alice as Mother, and Colette as Maiden. Colette objects, saying that she is no Maiden. Colette’s rather humorous objection may be based on a misunderstanding of the Maiden aspect of the Goddess, but nevertheless I agree with her. And though I can see Jane as Crone, I can’t see Alice as Mother. What I do see is that Jane could represent all three, just as the Morrighan and other goddesses sometimes vary between embodying one Goddess and being a triple Goddess. The most obvious representation for Jane is Crone, but as we get to know her we may also see that she is a Mother is a number of ways, and (since, in Goddess spirituality, the designations Mother, Maiden, Crone don’t necessarily refer to age but rather to personality or function), she can also be seen as Maiden in that she is independent, strong, and has an affection for the forests and woods.

In the next several chapters, the plot evolves in surprising ways that deepen the story—but I’m not going to tell you about them because I want you to be able to experience them fully when you see the film yourself. I will, however, talk about one aspect of a subplot I find puzzling. Relatively late in the film, the character of a landlady with an Asian name is introduced. We never see her. In fact, Alice and Colette say they’ve never seen her. But they don’t like her and consider her a grouch. Their contact with her is through a man who says he is just the apartment manager (Duncan Cook) and messenger from the landlady. I have to ask, what is the purpose of the landlady? If we never see her, why couldn’t the role be a landlord instead, played by the same actor who plays the manager? And why is the landlady given an Asian name? I feel like there’s something I don’t get here. Perhaps we are to surmise that the grouchy Asian landlady doesn’t really exist, and that the manager is just using her supposed existence to mask what are really his own opinions and actions? If you see the film, feel free to leave a comment here about what your interpretation would be.

I  want to express my appreciation for the high quality and variety of the music in the film’s soundtrack, which in addition to Fischer’s contemporary piece, includes baroque and folk genres. Many of its songs are sung and/or composed by Sylvi Alli, who is shown in the film as a street singer.

The World Premiere of The Book of Jane is Nov. 21 at the Berkeley Arts Festival, Berkeley CA. There will be a live performance of songs from film by Sylvi Alli at 7:30; the film begins at 8 p.m. More info about the film is here. Info about Antero Alli and his work is here. And you’ll find his “vision statement” about The Book of Jane, here. The Book of Jane will also be available on DVD.

This review is based on a DVD screener provided by Antero Alli and Vertical Pool Productions.

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At Wednesday, October 23, 2013 6:55:00 PM, Anonymous Tamis Renteria said...

The movie sounds intriguing. Yes, I can completely relate to the tension you mention between the intellectual vs. the experiential approaches to Goddess. I guess I have learned to live between the two poles in a kind of balancing act, but lately I've been dwelling too much in the intellectual, and it' time to swing back. Thanks for the review; I'll definitely check the movie out.


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Judith Laura

More blogs about /goddess/feminist theology/spiritual feminism/pagan/feminist spirituality/.