Beth B’s Stigmata and The Cinema of Transgression

Today, we’ll be taking a look at Beth B’s Stigmata. Before we can do that, we need to talk about a bit about Structuralism. The Structural film movement seemed to be a response to the seemingly complex experimental films that came shortly before it. Those working within the movement wanted to return to a simpler film form. The filmmakers considered to be part of the Cinema of Transgression were responding to the Structural movement. They found Structuralism to be boring and even elitist. According to Nick Zedd’s manifesto, they wanted film to be dangerous again.

In terms of imagery, the film is very simple. Most of the film features six persons, centered, at medium close-up. On top of that, there are some different shots used sparingly throughout the film: a bird flying in a building, a POV shot of someone looking out of a window, a horse pulling a carriage, older people sitting on a bench.

The film begins with the six interviewees talking about their horrible childhoods and the great pain they felt inside of them. They all begin talking about how they dealt with that pain, eventually leading to the fact that they were all drug addicts. As the film goes on they all talk about their experience with abusing drugs and then how they all eventually decided to get treatment. The use of the talking heads and the almost non-existence of an interviewer immediately reminded me of Errol Morris. I find it really interesting to just sit back and listen to people talk in this manner.

Looking at the film in formal terms, I was almost surprised to read afterward that Cinema of Transgression was a response to what people didn’t like about Structural film. I liked this film, but in terms of form, I wouldn’t exactly call it exciting or dangerous. In fact, a lot of Structural films probably contained more camera movement.

The main difference would be the content. In Structural film, the form tends to be (or is valued more than) the content. The strength of this film is the content. Based on the title, I actually thought the interviewees would all claim to have experienced stigmata. As it went on it, I thought it would be about suicide attempts. By the time I figured out it was about drug addiction, I was so interested in them and their stories, I wasn’t even thinking about what the film was about. It also fits into the Cinema of Transgression because the film is about drug addiction and as Peterson points out that Postmodernist films of this kind tend to seek out kinds of impurity.

While I liked the film I do have mixed feelings on the run time. Part of me feels like it was just a little too long and another part feels that that thirty-eight minutes wasn’t nearly enough time to learn about these people and their struggles. I mentioned how Errol Morris uses a similar kind of interview technique (I’m guessing Beth B. didn’t use an interrotron) and part of the reason his films are great because of the way he blends music, re-enactments, and graphics with the interviews. I don’t believe the simplicity hurts the film, but if this is supposed to be a kind of attack on Structuralism, I expected just a little more excitement.

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