An award-winning short film about the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo will accompany a major exhibition of the artist's work to be held at Tate Modern in London on show until October 2005. Colin Hambrook saw the film and caught up with the artist, for a brief moment in her busy schedule.
Frida Kahlo's Corset by Liz Crow is a short experimental drama that follows a journey of transformation by the painter (1907-1954) who wore a series of orthopaedic corsets because of impairment. Frida Kahlo was an artist I paid special attention to during my college days, so when I first saw Liz Crow's film at the LDAF Film Festival a few years ago, I was very excited to find another artist who appreciated the richness of the colour and symbols Frida Kahlo thrilled in, with all the beauty, intensity and pain which underpinned her life. I related to her painting, because she used the medium in a surreal and poetic way to make very tangible statements about her life's experience.
Talking about her motivation for making the film Liz Crow says:
From her 30s until her death at 47, Kahlo wore a series of orthopaedic corsets, including a plaster cast version, that surrounded her from chest to waist. For someone as colourful, sensual and all-woman as Kahlo, this harsh and clinical object must have been an assault. But she painted the casts with motifs from her paintings and her life, turning them into an extension of her self.
This was something that rang so true to my own experiences of impairment and self-image that I wanted to bring it to film. So much of what is written about Kahlo is about tragedy and suffering and I wanted to present a very different perspective. She struggled, true, but as an absolute survivor, not a victim. This film shows a transformation as she establishes a new sense of self.
The film evokes a woman who revels in her identity as an artist and as a disabled person. With relish it displays various quotes from Frida Kahlo's diary, which sum up the strength and passion of her personality:
All the cripples of Mexico have come to kiss me. For only a mountain can understand a mountain.
In gringo land the people wear the faces of uncooked bread. There I'm cut and wrapped and bound. My blood oozes a tale of others' fears.
Oh this crab shell it captures my pain, my pictures, my pleasure. But did you not know that crabs scuttle sideways.
I am sun, moon and curious morning, winged pillar a thousand years wise, portrait of Mexico. See me fly.
Frida Kahlo's Corset has won the Picture This Short Film Award and received an Honourable Mention at the Calgary Film Festival. Frida is played by Isolte Avila from Sign Dance Collective. The film has also screened at Arnolfini, Bristol (alongside Miramax feature film Frida); National Film Theatre; Brief Encounters Short Film Festival; British Federation of Film Societies; Munich Festival of Short Films; Herland Festival, Canada; Disability Film Festivals (London, Stratford-upon-Avon, Calgary, Toronto, Moscow); Bird's Eye View; and on HTV and Sky Television.
Frida Kahlo's Corset will be screened as part of Angel of Fire Programme, Sundays 10 July, 7 August, 4 September, 9 October, at 3.00 pm in the Tate Modern Starr Auditorium.
To see the film, plus an analysis by Deirdre Guthrie go to Liz Crow's site at: www.roaring-girl.com
Liz Crow interview
Frida Kahlo's Corset shows a journey of self-image and transformation by the Mexican painter and disabled woman Frida Kahlo, using the painting and colours that were her life. Perhaps because her image and painting are so memorable, there is a false perception that Frida Kahlo has been the subject of many films, making additional coverage superfluous. In fact, BFI archives show six films about Frida Kahlo being made and/or distributed in the UK in the last 30 years, the most recent being eight years ago. Most of these have been straight biographical documentaries, with one drama-documentary. Often they have dwelt on Kahlo as a victim of her impairments. There is no record of any disabled film-maker producing work about Frida Kahlo. The specific disability culture approach of Frida Kahlo's Corset makes this film unique. Liz Crow explains some of the significance of the film, which contains an incredible depth despite its brevity.
What was the source of the quotes used in Frida Kahlo's Corset?
The text is inspired by Frida Kahlo's diaries and letters. There is a rich and surreal quality to the writing, which mirrors her paintings.
How did you go about choosing which quotes to use when writing the film?
She used a lot of word association, which produced juxtapositions and sounds just as surreal and luscious as her paintings. I read a lot of her words and drew on occasional phrases of hers until her style of writing felt familiar; then I let my own imagination wander.
Scene 2 shows Frida wrapped by medical hands into a plaster corset. What is the significance of the white bandages adorned with words that repeatedly encircle her torso?
The image of the white cast being applied by the medic is Frida at her most vulnerable and colonised. It's the antithesis of everything that is Frida (colour, vibrancy, life), an assault to her sense of self. The moment she begins to apply colour and words to the corset is the moment she begins to win her self back. She uses paint to define herself in her new image. She isn't rejecting the corset - the corset assists her body to move her through the world - but she is making them a part of her. Frida was a painter to her very core, a woman who painted her life (in the sense of recording, explaining and creating it). She applied paint to every important experience in her life, so it was utterly natural that she would apply paint to this too.
The image of the sun, moon and pillar on the cast must be a representation of one of the actual casts Frida painted. Was there a reason for choosing this image above other painted casts?
The cast (painted by Moira Gavin) drew heavily on many Kahlo paintings and themes. One of the most recognisable paintings used is The Broken Column, where she represents her spine as a crumbling pillar, nails piercing her skin. Kahlo's paintings are deeply symbolic (using symbols of mortality and colonisation), derived from Mexican popular art and pre-Columbian culture, and from votive paintings of Christian saints and martyrs. She works with ideas of duality (mortality/rebirth, male/female, life/death) and the sun and moon are part, representing the different facets of her self and her experience.
You can download Frida Kahlo's Corset at www.roaring-girl.com
About Liz Crow
Writer-Director Liz Crow runs Roaring Girl Productions, www.roaring-girl.coma creative media projects company based in Bristol. With Ann Pugh, she has also directed The Real Helen Keller for Channel Four, www.channel4.com, a documentary-biography, which charts Keller's life-long battle against her triumph-against-tragedy public image.
Her current project, now in post-production, is Nectar, a 15-minute drama shot on high definition and trialling new approaches to audio description, sign language interpretation and captioning. A DVD will be released in the autumn with Nectar and an accompanying documentary exploring how the production was made inclusive.
Nectar is the story of working class Walter Kendall, who has lived all his 91 years in the same city. After his beloved wife Gloria dies, he is overtaken with memories of the day he discovered what he really wanted from life… It's 1931 and 17-year old Walter is swimming to certain glory. But on the eve of selection for the Olympic squad, Walter knows with sudden clarity that the dream he is following is not his own. Can he find the courage to turn from the expectations of others and hold on to what he already has? Trusting his own instincts, Walter finds that simplicity can make for the sweetest of lives.