Shirley – Visions of Reality

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Shirley – Visions of Reality

Directed by Gustav Deutsch

  • Austria 2013; 93 min
  • Original version: English
  • Genre: Experimental, Drama
    • Erste Bank More Film Award - Viennale IFF

Synopsis

A series of snapshots from the life of a fictional actress named Shirley serves to weave together thirteen paintings by Edward Hopper (e.g. "Office at Night", "Western Motel", "Usherette", "A Woman in the Sun") into a fascinating synthesis of painting and film, personal and political history. Each station in Shirley’s professional and private life from the 1930s to 1960s is precisely dated: It is always August 28/29 of the year in question, as the locations vary from Paris to New York to Cape Cod. Shirley is a liberated woman who questions conventional relationship roles and reflects on the role of theatre and politics. Her thoughts are conveyed through internal monologues delivered in voiceover. Furthermore, every episode begins with fragments from radio news reports, which place Shirley’s personal story in relation to key events from American history over the decades (the Great Depression, the Second World War, McCarthyism, the Kennedy era, and the Civil Rights movement). A supremely elegant "animation" of a most unusual kind, which, in moving from single images to film, takes advantage of the seemingly inherent cinematic and narrative qualities of Hopper’s paintings.

Director's Statement

As the starting point for this film, which has at its heart the staging of reality and the dialogue of painting and film, I selected Edward Hopper’s picturesque oeuvre, which on the one hand was influenced by film noir – in his choice of lighting, subject and framing as seen in paintings such as Night Windows (1938), Office at Night (1940), Room in New York (1932) and his irect references to cinema such as in New York Movie (1939) and Intermission (1963) – and on the other hand influenced filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock, Jim Jarmusch, Martin Scorsese and Wim Wenders. Based on my conviction that history is made up of personal stories and influenced by my reading of John Dos Pasos’ USA novel trilogy[1] in which the life stories and destinies of a few are representative of the wider public and social and cultural history of America, I have chosen an actress as the film’s protagonist – Shirley – through whose reflective and contemplative inner monologues we experience America from the beginning of the 1930’s through to the mid-1960’s. Here we have three decades, which have seen great upheavals at all levels – political, social and cultural – that have changed the country and its people forever: Pearl Harbour and WWII, the atomic bomb and the “conquest of space”, McCarthy and the Cold War, the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the start of the Vietnam War, Duke Ellington and the big band swing, Billie Holiday and the Southern blues, Elvis Presley and the rock n’ roll, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and the protest song, The Group Theatre, The Living Theatre, Method Acting, The Actor’s Studio and its affiliated movie stars such as Anne Bancroft, Marlon Brando, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, the Stock Market Crash, the Depression, Fordism and Interstate Highways, race riots and the Ku-Klux-Klan, the March on Washington and Martin Luther King. These events, names and legends, which are inscribed into our collective memory, evoke images and moods. Shirley experiences and reflects all this as a committed and emancipated actress with left-leaning politics. She enjoys jazz, listening to the radio and going out and loves film. She is a woman with strong opinions and both feet on the ground, even during times of personal or professional crisis. She is attractive, charismatic and likes to play outsider roles such as that of the prostitute Francie in Sydney Kingsley’s play Dead End. Besides art, she is also interested in socio-political issues. As an ensemble member of the Group Theatre and Living Theatre she combines art with her socio-political involvement. While Shirley and her partner Stephen, a photojournalist for the New York Post, share an apartment on only two occasions during these three decades, their private and professional lives are deeply connected: unemployment as a result of the Depression, disappointment after the betrayal of Group Theatre members in front of the McCarthy committee, repressions as a result of the politically-minded theatre, career retirement as a result of an ill partner, loss of the partner, retirement to the countryside and questioning of the effectiveness of art, emigration to Europe – personal destinies that are pursued in front of and influenced by world-changing events, cultural revolutions and socio-political upheavals.

Production

  • KGP KRANZELBINDER GABRIELE PRODUCTION

    Marie Tappero 

Festival Bookings

  • AUSTRIAN FILMS