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

editing process.

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.