By David Pountain
In 2002’s Do I Love You? and 2007’s Tick Tock Lullaby, writer-actress-director-artist Lisa Gornick delved humorously into the philosophical and psychological questions that stir up change and doubt in many a relationship. Now, for her latest project, The Book of Gabrielle, the British multi-hyphenate goes the extra mile in her explorations of love, life, sex and sexuality with a multi-platform production consisting of a live drawing show, a book and an upcoming web series alongside a new feature film that follows the eponymous Gabrielle (Gornick) through her process of writing the aforementioned book while contemplating her relationship with younger girlfriend Olivia (Anna Koval).
With the new film screening at The Barbican in London on June 29th, along with a live drawing show and the launch of the accompanying book, Gornick discusses her ambitious new project and the ideas behind it.
What motivated you to create The Book of Gabrielle as a transmedia production and what do you think each part of it (the film, the book, the web series, the live drawing) brings to the table?
I was thinking about what a cinema is and also what watching a film is. Making a film is finite. You come to the final edit and you have to let it go. There’s something satisfying in that too. You can move on. But what if the film is made not in such a strict three-act-structure, narrative way? What if, like The Book of Gabrielle feature film, it’s a film that asks questions too, doesn’t tell you what to think. So I wanted something running alongside the finite feature that was more fluid.
I have a brain, a mind, a lifestyle even, that is hybrid and fluid. For most of my life so far, I’ve been told this isn’t right. You have to choose…but no, I think we are all more than just one path. We have our other lives that we sometimes dream of, yearn for, and I wanted to make a project that allowed me to do that. I draw, I perform, I make film. So I wanted a project that would let the ideas come and come out from various platforms.
I think the feature film is the kind of heavy rock at the centre of the piece. It’s a luscious grand thing. I can’t change it. The only people that can change it now are the audience who come to it and read their own lives and ideas into it.
Then there is the book that the film is about. I have drawn/written the first edition of the book. It’s called How to do it. It’s the sex guide that Gabrielle is drawing in the film. Or it’s a version of it. Book publishing is more flexible than feature filmmaking. So now I’ve made the first book, I envisage and hope for more books of Gabrielle. I suppose the book (and no doubt the DVD) are products to turn around in your hand. I’m still of the age where I like to touch paper and see stuff on it. I’m also even of the age where I like to touch a DVD box…but I could wean myself off that.
The live drawing show is even more fluid. It’s live for a start and my way of live performing has a structure at it’s core but I like to be off-the-cuff and respond to the audience if I can. Interestingly if I perform in a cinema, the audience is in a different state than if they’re in a fringe theatre or studio space – cinema audiences I feel are more lulled by the enclosed sound and light to feel dreamy and less alert than a live performance space – but that’s intriguing and interesting to explore and create with.
The show is a response to the film. It was my intention to keep it very loose, as a kind of rolling commentary. That occurs but there’s also a loose structure based around the title, “What (the fuck) is lesbian film?” I take each of those words and have a live drawing exploration.
The web series, has had the least attention paid to it. But it is coming. I imagine it’s the easiest format of all I’m working with to be the most fluid. But it’s so fluid, I’m shy to say it’s not there yet. Was I too ambitious? Yes. But I was wanting to give myself a big push.
The feel of these platforms all squirming in and out of each other – interrelating; talking and not talking to each other – gives me an inner joy. A kind of geek satisfaction. I was so raised to be a humanities student that I left behind the science part of me, the part of me that likes electronics and how things work. The Book of Gabrielle, in its transmedia production, is still being tinkered by me and wired up.
Gabrielle struggles to get her book published due to its sexual content. Would you say that you yourself have encountered similar problems in getting your work made and seen?
Yes, I have. Every step of the way. With each thing I’ve done. So much so that with the rise of the MiniDV film revolution in the late 90s I thought fuck it, I’ve got a MiniDV camera, I’ve got Final Cut Pro, I’m going to start making my own films and not wait for a green light. Was I getting stopped because it was sexual though? I do remember people saying “if it wasn’t lesbian we’d fund it” or “why are you so obsessed by lesbian stories?” Meanwhile certain men were/are allowed to make lesbian films and win major awards for it, but I was told often by some, not to. It was niche when I did it…but not the big men who did. I sound angry. I am angry. Or I should have been more angry then…
However, to be fair to some of the rejecting people, I tended to not write scripts very conventionally. In my head I was Wong Kar-wai or Chantal Akerman. I didn’t want a polished script upfront. I had dialogues and wanted to find out the narrative or the line of direction in the edit.
Interestingly, now I realise I’ve been pushing a rock up a steep hill with this fluid, dialogue- and idea-based filmmaking and am now writing a “proper” script. I have to admit, I’m kind of intrigued and excited to do it.
Your films depict sexuality and personal kinks in a very clear-eyed, non-sensationalist way. Do you feel that people in general should be more open about discussing these things?
I really do. Everyone, deep down, was once an innocent thing that came along for the ride…and then things happen to every single one of us, some more shocking and damaging than others. Life throws so much at us. If we all had a chance to express ourselves and try and talk our truth, our inner voice, we’d cure a lot of stuff…Do I sound wooey? I don’t care. I am wooey. I’m not even talking about seeing a therapist, that doesn’t always work. But we get stuck easily. I get stuck a lot, and then feel so much better when I get unstuck.
Sexuality is a joyous thing. Personal kinks, I like that, they are a joyous thing. I have to say the patriarchy in all its forms doesn’t want us to revel too much and go off-piste. It likes to control its people and I have no good feelings about rigid rules of patriarchy (religion, mean capitalism etc – I can feel a long speech coming on – watch my coming web series).
At the same time, I feel that doubts and complications in your films often arise from people overanalysing their situations. Is there, in your opinion, such a thing as too much scrutiny when it comes to sex and relationships?
Oh OK…You’re saying this now…Well yes, I’ve had various people in my life say to me, no more talk…Lisa, get on with it. But they were the wrong people for me.
But you’re right, too much scrutiny and constant chat in a relationship and in sex would be hard. I mean perhaps funny but weird. But I think it works for comedy writing and performing. I don’t think I do this much talking in my real life relationships constantly (I hope I don’t). But for comedy, it’s kind of a classic device. So I defend it in my films, but as a way of having a good time with a loved one or friend, no, take it easy (note to self).
I’ve found that your films often seem to leave it up to the audience to decide whether to like or dislike certain characters, and whether to agree or disagree with what they do and say. Is it important to you that the audience has a little freedom in their opinions rather than just being told by the film what to think?
I very much think this. I know it scares some people because, as I said before, the cinema is built as a place to lull you into either an overfed slumber with the new comfy-cushion-with-alcohol-and-food cinema or those get-your-food-and-eat-in-the-cinema big chain places and just absorb and watch adverts and consume the story and leave and buy more stuff. Look at the cinemas of the 1920s onwards when cinema was huge – these cinemas that were built like cathedrals so that you were terrorized into being entertained and told what to feel and think.
So, yes, I love the glamour of cinema and the flirtation, but I do like to give the audience power to make their own mind up. I don’t want to do mind control, I want to enliven, suggest, open up…I do have a problem with manipulation…or if I do it, I want you to know I’m doing it…I mean, I suppose the very act of getting someone to sit in a dark room and watch something you’ve created is a little manipulative…but people go there willingly and I hope, once they’re in the dark, I’m making suggestions and seductions.
To me, your films regularly give off the impression of personal musings, as though we’re listening in on someone’s internal discussions as they reason their way through certain issues. Would you say that there is a strongly personal, even confessional element to your work ?
I think this is an apt way to look at my films so far, that I’ve written and acted in too. I’m in them, I’m doing the voiceover. I would liken them to diaries and sketch books, so yes the word confessional is good. I don’t think they are my autobiography though, more self-portrait sketches. They are versions of myself through various lenses. Not verbatim but my voice.
Do you have any future plans as an artist and a filmmaker?
I’m writing my fourth feature film right now. I want to make a funded film. I want to make something luscious and lesbian, the kind of film that men win awards for, and that make irritating people say (or maybe used to say, but I think still say) why is it that only men make really good lesbian films? No more. But I want to make something ambitious…and sensual. The Book of Gabrielle has whet my appetite.
I am also developing my live drawing show life. I love exploring drawing in a live setting with video and music and sound. So this summer, on August 15th and 16th, I am launching my new live drawing show at The Camden Fringe, called Lisa Gornick Regrets…
And, of course, I want to make my web series for The Book of Gabrielle. I can see it in my head, I just need to get my fingers twisting around and start drawing and making it.
The Book of Gabrielle will screen at The Barbican Cinema at 6.30pm on Thursday 29th June. It will be introduced with a short live drawing show and will be followed by the launch of Gornick’s book, How to do it. Find more info here.