Trans Artists and Academics Bringing History to the Present

“Anyone who wants to foresee the future must consult the past,” notes Machiavelli, and while “Framing Agnes” mines the archives to look at transgender lives in America after World War II, director Chase Joynt uses these historical cases from the past to elicit fascinating and provocative insights into how transgender people live today.

As with “No Ordinary Man,” the portrait of jazz musician adaptation Billy Tipton that Joynt co-directed, this is a continuous documentary that breaks through the fourth wall, with camera angles showing the mics. booms and marks on the floor, where it’s black- White and white footage of actors performing interview transcripts will be cut into color footage of performers and the director giving away to each other in terms of syntax and dynamics.

Rather than serve as a distraction or distance, however, Joynt’s filmmaking style underscores Machiavelli’s observation that we can only know ourselves, as individuals or as a community, if we can understand its historical predecessors. The performers here bring to life real, unknown characters from the past while sharing insight into their own 21st life of the century, examines the ways transgender people in the United States have, and have not, moved forward.

Like Freud’s Dora, Agnes is a figure whose identity is out of date but who still makes a huge impact in medical and sociological circles. She was one of many subjects of UCLA gender research conducted by Harold Garfinkel in the 1960s, and she has become known in some academic circles for misleading Garfinkel and his colleagues. him about the specifics of her life so that she could meet the discriminatory standards of the day. for sex confirmation surgery. What some researchers have previously called duplication, many contemporary transgender activists now hail as an act of working within an oppressive system for their own good.

Actress and filmmaker Zackary Drucker (who recently executive produced HBO’s The Lady and the Dale) plays Agnes, with Joynt taking on the role of Garfinkel; The director conducted these interviews not in a clinical setting, but as a television show along the lines of “The Mike Wallace Interview,” which aired from 1957 to 1960. Segments of the show The chat was shot by Aubree Bernier-Clarke in the monochrome square of the early TV, so we know the performers have personality.

Talking to each other like themselves, Joynt and Drucker discuss the importance of talk shows in the cultural history of transgender people, from the day-discovered shows of the 1990s (which nonetheless provide grants a degree of visibility) to Laverne Cox’s legendary school about Katie Couric on issues throughout 2014.

Agnes isn’t the only interviewee in the Garfinkel archive, so we get Angelica Ross, Jen Richards, Silas Howard, Max Wolf Valerio, and Stephen Ira to recreate transcripts of transgender women and men other worlds and share their personal experiences with Joynt. (The Jules-Gill Peterson Academic does not portray one of Garfinkel’s research topics but provides valuable insight as an archivist and transformative scholar.)

The juxtaposition of past and present makes “Framing Agnes” far richer and more thought-provoking than it would be if it focused solely on one or the other. The inclusion of Georgia, the only black subject in the UCLA study, allows for conversations about how race and class factors are a key ingredient in any discussion of weirdness and First-person contributions Angelica Ross certainly underscore the understanding that the transgender community is not monolithic. Each participant brings their background knowledge in the arts and/or academia to create an empathetic and insightful look at a community that is constantly fighting for the right not only to live, but to live. to explain themselves in their own terms.

Joynt, Peterson, and Ira clearly speak PhD-ese fluently, and at times their conversation threatens to delve too far into academic rhetoric, but the film never goes too far in that direction. always keep participants’ knowledge (about themselves and Garfinkel’s audience) front and center.

“Framing Agnes” is done with skill and care, making the most of and then some expense from its budget. Costume designer Becca Blackwood curates vintage clothing that is period-appropriate and perfectly suited to each interviewee’s personality. (The actors also make great costume choices; when Ross mentions “the hunter and the lion” – alluding to the story’s shifting perspective – the moment is emphasized by the car. her camouflage jacket, with a bit of safety orange lining peeking through her cuffed sleeves.)

This is a documentary about people talking, but Joynt and his collaborator Morgan M. Page kept that conversation going (with the help of editors Brooke Stern). Sebold and Cecilio Escobar) and filled with details. Just like the UCLA interviews that inspired it, “Framing Agnes” is an important piece of the historical record, addressing transgender life as we know it now and providing insights deeper for current and future viewers.

“Framing Agnes” made its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Trans Artists and Academics Bringing History to the Present

Curtis Crabtree

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