Excerpt from “What Should I make up?
Full title: “What should I make up?: An inquiry into autobiography”
Interviews with Sarah Jane Lapp, Michele Fleming, and Amie Siegel--By Jenny Perlin
Published in Screening the past, Issue 13 | LaTrobe University, Australia | 2001
Link to full text: http://www.nilrep.net/publications/
Michele Fleming, USA
16mm, 30 minutes, 1999
Part meditation on a woman's midlife search for meaning, part essay on and
experiment in cinematic form, Michele Fleming's Life/Expectancy creates a rich visual
and conceptual tapestry of autobiography. Provocative and seductive, this film gives
us, in Fleming's words, a "glimpse of stories that refuse to be told.”
--San Francisco Cinematheque Brochure
Life/Expectancy. It is exquisitely shot in black and white; it uses archival materials to comment
on and contrast with the voice over; it makes me want to attach autobiographical tendencies
to the work, and yet there is much more in the film. It is a meditative piece, full of windows
and shadows, observations of the kind where one sits by the window and stares, not
searching, just watching quietly. A meditation, it is said, on the passage through mid-life. Yet
just beneath the surface of the quiet, questions and voices, abound. The beautiful roses
have menacing thorns, the placid fish are piranhas, and time passes; life passes,
indiscriminately, over each of us.
JP: I would like to ask you about your unique working methods. You once told me how
you work, shooting reversal film and then A/B rolling the original**, but I'd like to hear
more about this process in detail, and also if you could talk a little about why you
have chosen to use this process, which involves such a different experience of the
MF: The means by which I created my last film were traditional-what most would call oldfashioned.
I shot the material on film, and edited the film itself by hand. I used black
and white reversal camera stock and because of this I could edit the original footage
with no need to generate a workprint. I A/B/C rolled my original footage, prescribing
overlapping super-impositions and dissolves to be realized by lab printing as the final
step. This is a creative process and a classic, material-film centered methodology that
finds its origins in the work of figures such as Will Hindle and Bruce Baillie. I was
fortunate enough to explore this method...as a personal, singular culmination in the
exercise of my own imagination. My mind...builds and forges links from textual
fragment to fragment, from image to image, image-fragment to text-fragment to
sound-fragment. Associations ensue. Fragments...blend with one another, resulting in
renewed force...My crucial intent is that my film will evoke a certain receptiveness in
the spectator to an imaginative state that parallels...the imaginative processes that I
used in the making of the work.
JP: Your use of archival materials, especially archival sound, is quite striking in the film.
Could you talk about your choices there? The audio seems very personal. Do you
see relationships between your choices of archival sound and autobiography? By
this, I think I mean, when I see the film, I attribute an autobiographical impulse to the
choices of archival audio. Is this the direction the audio is meant to take us? I think it
is very interesting that instead of a confessional-type voice-over, you have a man's
voice and these conversations from other films.
MF: I was teaching a Film I class and I was showing Su Friedrich’s “Gently down the
Stream” which as you know is silent, with text scratched in the emulsion. I always ask
my classes after they see the work if they hear a voice reading the text in their head
while they are watching it...usually I get a wide spread of responses from: ’I hear my
own voice’ to “ I hear an anonymous woman’s voice” But this time I got nothing.
Nobody heard a thing. Finally a student spoke up and said “Don’t you think it’s kind of
sick to hear voices [in your head]?” I responded with something like “I hope not,
because I hear them all the time...”
Lines from songs, quotes, comments from friends (and foes), lines from movies, quips
from commercials and sitcoms...they all literally pop up in my head all the time. Along
with more intuitive guides that often seem to speak. Anyway, I became interested in
collecting some of these voices...the more famous the better. Interesting issues of
identification came up (can you identify with a voice...not an image?) I collected lines
from some of my favorite movies and discovered I was dealing mostly with characters
that were misfits...those people who, for one reason or another, were forced to the
margins. I decided I would literally begin a conversation with these voices and started
cutting them into my own text [in the film]. So these voices either lead the
conversation or respond to it. They add a whole level of “complication” to the
film...issues and comments that go on in my head all the time...
I have to say that my process is always a matter of collection. I find something and I
pick it up. I write about it, or in response to it, or find an image that seems appropriate
to it...I find ways to weave this collection.
The voices, the text, the images, the footnotes…all are intended to open up poetic
lines of communication. I still think this is an important more of communication that
has nothing to do with solid facts or points of view, but has everything to do with
potential and discovery. Growing, getting past what you always held as true without
JP: The roses, and the time-lapse scene out the window, and the nondescript views out
the window, and the exquisite curtain blowing. These windows, shadows, and nonviews
are very compelling in your film. Why so many windows? For me, the feeling of
being inside and looking out comes through very strongly. But there is more there, in
the arranging and rearranging of the roses, like life stories. Could you talk about
these images specifically and what they mean and meant to you?
MF: I had time off...I spent a year reading, thinking, and making this film. Nearly the whole
piece...was shot out my window. It’s what I looked at as I thought and worked. From
the surface of the glass at night when it gets cold and there is condensation, to
filming some summertime event/celebration that my neighbors threw, to the big
snowstorm ...I responded to whatever was there and weaved it into the film...
I was interested in the rose because I wanted to look at “the underneath” of things.
We get so swept away by the beauty and the wondrous, intoxicating fragrance of
these flowers that we don’t look at the equally amazing defense system nature has
given the rose. Many people never learn about this nastier underside...but I feel that
it is critical if we are going to really explore human nature to explore darkness.
The film is partially about the contemplation of a liminal passage into mid-life and what
this particular persona was thinking about at that time. And so literally takes place in
my most familiar surrounding (with thanks to Bachelard). When I was younger I
thought I would be a lot smarter by now. There is the shock of realizing that the
struggle and search gets more intense and urgent with age...unless you ossify into a
single philosophy that denies the existence of all else.
JP: And the relationship to autobiography?
MF: Well, I’ll quote footnote [an element from the film] #7: ‘Autobiography: “When
someone asks you later if your work is autobiographical, you answer,’ No, not exactly,’
and smile enigmatically.”--Diane Schoemperlen, Forms of Devotion.