ND/NF: The Cinematic Code of Director Laurel Nakadate’s Stay the Same Never Change
When contemporary artist Laurel Nakadate director of
Stay the Same Never Change (2009) introduced her debut feature to ND/NF audiences at MoMA Thursday evening, she felt it was important for the audience to recognize the film’s video art origins. “I wrote this script five and a half years ago, planning to be the girl in the video performing all the roles,” she told us. When Nakadate received funding and support from Kansas City-based contemporary art incubator Grand Arts, she aimed for a theatrical-length feature involving a cast of teenage girls and middle-aged bachelors, largely non-actors, to perform scenes from her script. I confess Nakadate’s “video art” warning helped me relax my pace /plot expectations from the outset, so I could give myself over to the private cinematic code of her excellent stewardship. What you are about to see is highly intentional conceived and constructed. And, to my taste at least, remarkably successful in achieving its internally defined goals.
In her video art and photography, Nakadate often uses herself as a central performer/provocateur, blurring the boundary between theatrical camp and “the ethnographic document” by engaging with non-actors collaborators in staged scenes of “playing pretend” that frequently prove genuinely discomforting to performers and audience. Often she uses single men she collects, those who approached her on the street, asking her out, often lonely middle aged bachelors. Her videos and photographs push into uncharted regions where what is socially permitted is uncertain. One example, she describes a project where she entered into the homes of bachelors with a birthday cake to ask them to help her make-believe it is her birthday, an activity she discovered to be almost wholly alien to their adult lives. (See interview with her in The Believer here.)
But her young teen non-actresses are the striking new feature of this film. These teens, selected through a lengthy casting process including investigation into social networking sites such as MySpace, performed in personal clothing in their homes, performing Nanadate’s fictional script. While a few moments of improvisation were necessary, “most it was closely scripted,” the director explained. “I think it is interesting and hard to have them pretend in their real homes.”
One unusual feature, lifted from broadcast journalism: Nakadate places black bars over the eyes of a number of the adult men in this film, obscuring their identities. This began when she wanted to remove a single individual from the film (and also there were others she had no releases for). “I tried just removing his face but keeping the body, and really liked it. […] The more I started barring the eyes of men, the more I started liking the scenes.”
Nakadate cages viewers in the teenagers’ unfathomable boredom, adrift within the boundless empty American spaces they haunt. For me, the specificity of her critique, the day-lit horror of the girls’ drifting lives the ambiguity/menace of the men observing them, kept my deeply engaged, deeply disturbed. The film may prove, for certain New Yorkers, something of a “flyover horrorflick”: far more terrifying than any slasher film, for its omission of scenes of hope, activity, cultural institutions, art, interpersonal exchange, careerism, commuting.
Sat Mar 28: 3:30 (FSLC)