You go to the movies, sit in a dark room with strangers, and for the next 90-120+ minutes, you find yourself in a different reality. As you sit with eyes glued to the screen, there may be characters or stories that you wish you could be part of, or that you wish you could be – this is often the case for many romcoms. (I am guilty of wanting to be a vampire like the ones in the Twilight saga – who doesn’t want to glitter in the sun?)
This whole scenario, albeit fantastic and escapist, doesn’t seem to challenge us as audience members. A crucial genre of film that is never usually screened in major movie theaters is personal cinema. Other terms could be diary films, essay films, film-poems, auto-ethnographies, etc.
One notable film that comes to mind is Lisa Steele‘s Birthday Suit – with scars and defects (1974). In this 13-minute film, Lisa presents her naked body to the camera and then for the remainder of the film she shows her viewers extreme close-ups of all the scars on her body followed by the description of the incident that caused the scar and the month and year the incident happened.
This is a remarkable piece as her body is nowhere near sexualized or objectified. Instead, it is more human. Her personal disclosure of her scars and defects gives a sense of confidence. It allows viewers to understand that their own scars and defects are what makes them unique in a world fueled by conformity.
Where most fantasy or conventional films allow a destruction of the self via escapism (which can also lead to self-consciousness), personal and raw films bring us back to ourselves and allow us to accept who we are in meaningful ways. Next time you see a film where the filmmaker is pouring their heart out, don’t discount it – it might just make you feel more human.