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Matinee: 'Cindy Sherman -- Nobody's Here But Me' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

22 February 2014

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the twenty-first in our series of Saturday matinees today: Cindy Sherman -- Nobody's Here But Me.

This BBC production broadcast from 1994 runs a little over 55 minutes and includes footage Sherman herself shot with a video camera.

As the narrator says at the very start, she's famous for her photographs of women in which she's also the model.

"I love my camera," she sighs, but admits "it's just a tool." Painting was tedious but with a camera, her time is spent composing the image she captures with a quick press of the camera's shutter button. An image you might never see, she adds, because it is isn't found in the world but a figment of her imagination.

So no, Sherman doesn't shoot street photography, or photojournalism, or product shots. She makes art.

Fresh out of college, walking down the street in New York, she wasn't terribly comfortable, she confides. You have to have a street persona, she says. Punk haircut, dark classes, unisex clothing. "I just started to look like as mean a person as they were," she said. You got a gun, maybe I got a gun, too, she explains.

No, no street photography.

But "life locked up in a room," where she was comfortable, inspired an imaginative reaction. She would go to her room and "turn into other people," she tells us. Dressing up. Acting parts. Art.

But "the perverse side of dressing up," she adds. Not transforming herself into the Princess but into the elderly grandmother. Not a fantasy but an apparition.

She has always worked at home, consequently, rearranging her furniture to set the scene. Art.

Jamie Lee Curtis, an admirer of Sherman's work, appears throughout the film, first talking about Sherman's black and white images, which she describes as stills from a movie we never see. The key still. The one that suggests the story, "a whole film based on that character," Sherman explains.

Working intuitively she finds formal criticism of her work amusing. She often doesn't know what's she's after, she confesses, until well after the work is done. Then, if she still doesn't know, she's told by the critics.

"I like being scared," she explains her love of horror movies. But she doesn't want a lot of blood and guts in her pictures. She prefers subtlety. And fake body parts. Noses. Hands. Breasts. Butts. Which introduced nudity to her work.

The body parts modified and then substituted for herself as the model. At one point we see her assembling a complete medical training manikin. She became quite the shopper for bodies and parts. These all serve her reflections on the themes of sexuality, then AIDS and ultimately censorship.

The interviews and Sherman's discussion of her art are interspersed with stills of her work, making a nice transition from theme to theme. Some of the images are disturbing. You might say they move from amusing to disturbing as her career develops. But she remains strikingly straightforward, her eye on the ball, keenly aware of the hypocrisy and crimes around her.

The film ends poetically with a fairy tale about a girl who saves the whole town from an evil end by keeping her wits about her. She might as well have been named Cindy.

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