Monday, November 17, 2008

Films I Love #7: Sink Or Swim (Su Friedrich, 1990)

[This is cross-posted with the Film of the Month Club, where I have selected this film as November's topic of discussion. Comments are turned off here so that all the conversation can take place over there.]

Sink Or Swim, Su Friedrich's experimental short in which she attempts to express, through a wide variety of techniques, her ambivalent experiences with and feelings for her often-absent father, has a rigorous formal structure driving its autobiographical narrative. The film consists of 26 sections, each one titled with a single word, the first letters of which count down through the alphabet. The film opens with a segment titled "Zygote" and ends with a section that has three titles, all from Greek mythology: "Athena," "Atalanta," and "Aphrodite." There is one screen capture here from each of the film's 26 alphabetical sections, mimicking the film's structure and demonstrating the discrete feel and methodology of each separate part in the film's whole. The titles sometimes consist of deadpan jokes or puns (the "X Chromosome" section is simply a sustained shot of an elephant's trunk, for obvious reasons), but more often the titles relate obliquely to the images they introduce. There is, in addition to the stories provided by the film's voiceover, a secondary narrative running through the film that is sustained wholly by the titles and their relationships to the images. Friedrich's lesbianism is brought in almost exclusively in this way, particularly in the sections entitled "Temptation" (images of female bodybuilders) and "Kinship" (in which, at one point, an image of a lesbian couple embracing in a shower is slowed down and manipulated with video processing). These subtexts largely go unspoken, so that the film becomes a story about desire developing, placed in opposition to the filmmaker's antagonistic relationship with her father.

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