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Do You Ship? / Adventures in Amateur Filmmaking / Listings

by Now Then Sheffield

Dir. Todd Haynes, USA, 2015

Watching the already-critically-acclaimed Carol, the sheer number of covert glances and gazes between Carol (Cate Blanchett) and Therèse (Rooney Mara) is striking, especially in their first few scenes together. As with Hays Code era movies, viewers are required to interpret numerous unspoken as well as spoken signals to access the film’s full story. Key to the film’s beauty and power are the myriad ways in which it resolutely turns subtext into text, drawing heavily, as Alonso Duralde puts it, "on the furtive glances and secretive language that gays and lesbians […] had to rely upon for so long to find each other and to express themselves"- something arguably still the case for many, as expressed in the popularity of queer ‘ships’ between TV and film characters canonically represented as heterosexual.

The initial flirtation between the two women – initiated perhaps by Carol’s placing her gloves firmly on the sales desk, but arguably earlier, by Therèse’s lingering looks at Carol when she enters the department store’s Winter Wonderland of Toys – is furthered by filmic strategies, such as lighting a cigarette. But unlike in so many film noirs and beyond, here the signifier of sex is explicitly not permitted in public. Therèse stops Carol from lighting up, as it were, as she’s "not allowed to smoke on the sales floor". Carol’s apologetic response, that "shopping makes me nervous", continues the playful rendering of the subtext as increasingly less ‘sub’, however, and the conversation about Therèse not liking dolls evolves accordingly.

Echoing information we’ve received already about Therèse , when Carol asks what she most wanted at four years old, Therèse says a train set. After acquiring only minimal information about the toy, Carol asks only, "Do you ship?" Therèse ’s response foreshadows her own journey to Carol’s home, as she fires back, "Special delivery. You could have it in two or three days."

Carol is immediately sold (on the train set, ostensibly), and leaves both her gloves and her address with Therèse. If we were in any doubt about the burgeoning significance of all this, the following scene has Therèse watching a movie with friends, one of whom, Dannie (John Magaro), comments that, "Right now I’m charting the correlation between what the characters say and what they really feel."

One might argue that none of this speaks to the film being specifically about woman, about lesbians, any more than shipping is or needs to be queer. And indeed, as noted by Patricia White, a whole range of reviewers have lauded Carol for the ‘universal’ nature of its love story, and it’s been promoted as such in many instances. But I agree with White that such "well-intentioned invocations of the film’s 'universality' shortchange the queerness of its makers" and of the film-text they have fashioned - just as the queerness of Supernatural’s Destiel and Sherlock’s Johnlock, for instance, are specifically not ‘universal’; nor, significantly, are they canon, unlike great hetero-ships such as Scully and Mulder and, more recently, TVD’s Delena.

Carol is unequivocal in its specific focus on the love between two women. Centrally significant to this are the obstacles peculiar to their love, obstacles that are far from ‘universal’. And Carol and Therèse are not alone. Sarah Paulson and Carrie Brownstein (both lesbians) play queer characters, too – the latter in a tiny role of such muted significance that it’s both easy to miss and a defining moment of the film’s being a specifically lesbian story.

On the Internet and IRL, the character of Carol has been criticised for ‘grooming’ the much-younger Therèse. Quite apart from the textual evidence of Therèse’s agency, in the central relationship and beyond (including her decision to not sleep with her boyfriend), this too surely speaks to the specificity of the love story. It is lesbians and gay men who face particular accusations of being predatory when an age gap is involved, even when such age gaps are the norm in hetero Hollywood (see, for instance, GraphJoy’s recent piece on the gender age gap in Hollywood).

Whatever your view of its love story, and of its ending, probably the most groundbreaking element of Carol is that whilst laying out the obstacles to queer romance, it also, as Moze Halperin writes, "affords its characters the agency to decide whether or not they want to overcome them."

Samantha Holland

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The lighting is perfect, the camera is rolling, the actors are nailing their lines - and a train roars past.

Cut!

Stupid train.

My directorial debut came on a study abroad year in the USA, when I entered a student competition to make a five-minute short film. I’d love to say my effort was a resounding success, a prize-winner, but it was a disaster. I tried to tell a feature film story in five minutes. I did most scenes in one take. All the scenes were very obviously on a university campus. I even had a conversation with my cameraman while the camera was rolling (pretty unforgivable, that one). Although these rookie errors had me pulling out hair as I edited the footage, everyone involved truly enjoyed themselves, which is a standard I try to maintain.

With a couple more shorts under my belt, and many more mistakes, I felt confident enough in my abilities to attempt something larger in scale. I already had a story in mind - a short fantasy about a former bank robber who must confront his demons - and I knew a few people who would help out. A few friends were kind enough to do a read-through of my script, and they were pretty brutal. Clearly, I didn’t know anything about bank robbers, and my friends couldn’t help but read their lines in parody Italian accents - “Forget about it!” Lesson learned and back to the drawing board, I rewrote the script with characters I understood. I still shudder at some of the lines that made it into the film, but it could have been worse.

For this more ambitious film I was leaving the university campus behind, choosing to shoot at an unfamiliar location downtown. What I hadn’t planned for was the parade going through town that day, as well as the heavy police presence. As a director I was on the edge of a breakdown with worries over a flashback sequence involving two armed robbers in masks, one with a realistic-looking plastic gun, the other with a very real shotgun. As the American police are not known for their sense of humour concerning firearms, I made the decision to film from inside the car and just suggest that the characters were getting out, which works well enough in the final edit.

When filming a night sequence, I learnt the importance of location scouting the hard way. What was supposed to be a deserted alley happened to be behind a busy nightclub, so if it wasn’t a train ruining the audio, it was drunken revellers screaming at the top of their lungs. Apparently, I was also shooting around the corner from a motorcycle gang meeting point. I was considering abandoning the shoot due to near-constant sounds of engine revving and competitive doughnutting, when thankfully the police appeared to shut down the meeting. Thinking back, I wish I’d had the presence of mind to film this happening, because it might have been more interesting than the eventual film.

The most important thing I’ve learnt from all my mistakes has been that none of them were insurmountable. When things go wrong on a shoot, most of the time it can be solved by keeping a cool head, and when one of those once-in-a-lifetime disasters occurs, remember that you’ll laugh about it later.

It is said that someone who never makes any mistakes never makes anything at all. I try to remember this when I watch my old work. Even though the glaring mistakes make me cringe, each and every one has made me a better filmmaker. That train was a bloody pain though.

Joe Dakin

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by Now Then Sheffield

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