Monday, May 10, 2010

The Nasty Girl

On Mother's Day the Society and its cosponsors, screened a film about an original meaning of Mother's Day. Julia Ward Howe, who famously wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic, called for a Mother's Day of Peace in 1870 when she asked women to oppose all forms of war. The film The Nasty Girl is based on a true story Anna Rosmus of Bavaria. Attacked by her community as a busy body and much worse, uncovered the participation of her town's citizens in their complicity and compliance with the Nazis, Rosmushas braved harassment and death threats to exhume history and facilitate commemoration.

Women's Studies and Film Studies Professor, Dana Plays of the University of Tampa and local psychoanalyst Michael Poff, MSW provided commentary and context and faciliatate discussion. It was especially exciting that Dana Plays is currently in progress on several projects including a post-modernist documentary "The Story of OttilieMoore," about her great aunt who provided safe-haven for more than 300 Jewish children at villa L'Hermitage, where she also sponsored the artist Charlotte Salomon, during WWII in Villefranche sur-Mer, France.

According to Professor Plays, Anna Rosmus decided to research her town's history during the Third Reich when the President issued an essay contest on the topic. While she did not make the deadline because she was blocked at every turn from finding out information, this passion to know about her town’s participation came to define her life. In a presentation to an American university audience, Rosmus, explained that she wanted people to gain knowledge from her work. “Once people pay attention to what happened, I hope they learn to understand that action or nonaction has consequences. Whether you intend crimes or just let them happen by looking the other way, going about your private life as if that were not the case; there are consequences are there nonetheless. The guilt is there. People lose their lives and other people have to live with the loss of these lives.”

The film’s director, Michael Verhoeven's, first film was about the White Rose resistance. His interest was piqued when his parents explained that this was an oppositional movement of young people active during the rule of the Nazis. It gave him pause because he had been taught that resistance was not possible and he was intrigued by what they had managed to achieve. His film,
The Nasty Girl, is a further uncovering of hidden history.

Professor Plays explained that director, Michael Verhoeven was part of the second generation of the people who were involved in the Nazism of Germany. These film makers decided to confront their history and bring it to the screen.

Michael Poff characterized the film as being about a woman who is struggling to be a mother and to be a powerful mother of change in the world. He compared her quest for knowledge to the difficult process of psychoanalysis and its goal of self-knowledge. Knowing the good and bad averts the tendency to take the bad part of us and see it as belonging out there. Such projects lead to scapegoating. The focus becomes finding something out there while not owning the bad inside us. Psychoanalysis helps us to accept the good and bad in us. It is life, facing our own demons and not look to something outside us as evil and in need of destruction in order to not have to face our own evil. Sonya preserved and never let go of that wish to find out what is true. Poff said that the movie was about uncovering denial-- the wish to not believe what has to be believed because it is true. He described it as a story about repression, meaning the wish to not have to feel. If psychoanalysis teaches us anything, Poff observed, is that the repressed will always return. Someone is going to come back and to tell the story along the way; she illuminated the kind of forces that weigh against those who try to tell the truth.

Professor Plays interpreted the film as a feminist one. The film was about a woman with a voice and the presentation of the film drawing on the experimental techniques of Bertel Brecht’s alienation structure allowed Sonya’s story to come forward according to pivotal point of film theorist Laura Mulvey’s revolutionary article, “Visual Pleasure of the Narrative Cinema” (1975). Mulvey argued that the male audience was more privileged in desire and voyeurism in traditional Hollywood films than is true for women viewers. Male spectators have a vicarious experience through the male protagonist indulging their voyeuristic spectatorship of human pleasure in a darkened theatre. Mulvey called for a new filmic structure that could address the female viewer. Professor Plays described the structural devices the director used to promote a female voice. These devices included: speaking directly to the audience, photographic backdrops, and showing the interior family life in the larger structure of the society. Speaking directly to the audience causes breaks in the belief in the fictive narrative of the film. This distancing affect causes the audience to engage with the work intellectually and critically, rather than allowing the viewer to watch the film in a dream-like state. Because it is a woman speaking to you, the distancing structure stages the film as feminist. All backdrops are in black and white and are not real. They are photographs and as such they call to attention to modes of production. In another scene the family is suppose to be in a living room but they are driving around in a vehicle and the whole town becomes visible.

Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society President, Lycia Alexander-Guerra asked Professor Plays to explain how sexuality and a feminist voice are integrated into the film when both men and women can be feminists. Noting a feminist voice does not only come from women, Professor Plays characterized the feminism of the Sonya character as being in control of her own sexuality and she was going to continue her work and demand that Martin participate in childrearing. She wasn’t going to privilege his work over her work. The director tells the story of a strong that is control of her own voice/life, she keeps at it. Michale Poff added that Sonya did not control her family. She was in control of herself in her relationship with Martin and the family. She wasn’t dominating in the sense of limiting Martin’s voice and she exercised her pleasure in her ability to woe him. They were not locked in a power battle, but in a struggle over how to be human beings with each other. Dr. Alexander-Guerra adopted the position that the feminism of the film was not about privileging one body with one set of genitals over another; it was not a feminist voice is not one of power like doer-done (e.g. Jessica Benjamin) to shifting power with the ability to negotiate. Since she had no need to privilege one person over the other; her own self of personhood do not need to subjugate another.

Professor Dana Plays is an internationally recognized filmmaker and digital media artist. She teaches cinema studies, world cinema, women’s studies, and film and digital production at The University of Tampa, and has held previous teaching appointments at Syracuse University and Occidental College, since 1990. Plays' filmography consists of 31 works in film and digital video. Her work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art: Color of Ritual, Color of Women, Avant-Garde Women Filmmakers of the Twentieth Century, and more than 50 international film festivals, including Edinburgh, Montreal Nouveau, and Seattle International Film Festivals. Her films have garnered more than 23 film festival awards including the prestigious First Prize Jurors' Choice Award at the Black Maria Film and Video Festival for Nuclear Family; Tom Berman Award for Most Promising Filmmaker at the Ann Arbor Film Festival for Zero Hour; Best Experimental Film at the Houston International Festival for Across the Border; and Best Documentary Award at the New Orleans Film Festival for Love Stories My Grandmother Tells, which also was broadcast on VPRO, a Dutch national television network. Since arriving at The University of Tampa in August 2005, Plays has had national awards and exhibitions including a Black Maria Film Festival award; a solo retrospective in Boulder, CO, at First Person Cinema, the longest standing American showcase for independent film; a digital installation of her piece Salvage Paradigm, at the Play Space Gallery, in San Francisco; a digital installations of and her video montage of Hollywood films situated in the Los Angeles River, River Madness, at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles. Plays served on the board of directors of Film Forum, in Los Angeles, Canyon Cinema, in San Francisco, and the board of trustees of the Putney School, in Putney, VT. She has ongoing membership with the College Art Association, Society of Film and Media Studies and University Film and Video Association.

Michael Poff, LCSW is in private practice, Tampa and specializes in child, adolescent, adult and family psychoanalytic psychotherapy, adult psychoanalysis. He completed training as a psychoanalyst at the Carter-Jenkins Center, Tampa in 2005. He is a supervisor to clinicians in psychoanalytic psychotherapy practice and is a psychoanalytic staff member, The Carter-Jenkins Center, Tampa. He is currently co-authoring a chapter on health and relationships, in nursing textbook: Comprehensive Women’s Health Care, edtied by Alexander, Hood, and Mallard-Johnson. For over twenty years, Mike Poff has been coordinating local annual psychoanalytic society film series and has been a field instructor, supervisor for MSW students in training, USF School of Social Work, a guest lecturer USF Department of Psychiatry and the USF School of Nursing, an outpatient psychotherapist with the Menninger/St. Joseph’s Psychiatry Center, Tampa and a Child and family psychotherapist, The Children’s Home, Tampa.