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Lucy Kerr

Lucy Kerr
« There is always this paradoxical contrast between the surface of an image, which appears to be in control, and the process which produces it, which inevitably involves some degree of violence. » This quote by Edward Said opens this simple and dense film, a manifesto on the complexity of images, in three successive steps.
1. A black screen, the voice-over of a woman who calmly recounts how she prepared and performed a stunt on a film set: a car and its two passengers falling off a cliff and into the ocean.
2. While the voice keeps describing the shooting and the lethal risks involved, a still shot of waves crashing against rocks appears. We realise then that the initial darkness was not some avant-garde chic trick, but instead that it was evocative of “the terror of being trapped under the water, in the dark”. So, as the voice proceeds, the meaning of the waves changes. Far from being a natural location, they look like gigantic crushers, not unlike the very industry that films them. Then the waves become a swaying allegory of the director’s repressed anger: “Asking questions is strong”, so the voice says. Then, there is a sense of relief after the stunt is done. After that, the voice keeps quiet and leaves the waves alone, just plain old waves now, after the storm of words.
3. On a film set: the sea water is replaced by oozing showers, a young woman is hanging from the ceiling, shaking and twitching like a possessed soul, during the shooting of a TV episode of The Exorcist.
Of course, we are struck by the three linked-up segments, by the implacable and impressive precision of the device. What we see here is a very rare endeavour indeed: cinema at full speed, and cinema as a passion (as embodied by the possessed woman), exactly superimposed and simultaneous to the analysis to the very conditions of its existence. We cannot wait to discover the next episodes.
(Jean-Pierre Rehm)

Interview with Lucy Kerr

In your film CRASHING WAVES, you question cinema and its making. Your starting point is made of various testimonials from stuntmen. How did you get interested in these often unrecognized figures?
Just being in LA amidst the film industry made me think about how much image-making shapes the city and the world. I was also thinking about the gap between a filmic representation and the lived experience of creating a representation – the experience of traversing the city was far different than slick representations in movies. I had also, at the time, been researching the history of representations of female sanctity in the Catholic Church – Saints are often depicted in a passive state of violence. I had thought about a contemporary analogy between imagery of Saints and the film industry’s reenactments of violence. The stunt industry provides Hollywood with people who can reenact death for us over and over, which allows spectators to momentarily escape the fear of their own death. I wanted to find performers to talk to, and I was introduced through a friend to Jess, Court, and Kelli, three queer women/non-binary people who were close friends and collaborators. I learned that the process of creating illusions of violence is often dangerous, and their labor is largely invisible. Also, they are so cool – they often surf, dirt bike, and skateboard together. Kelli was the quarterback of her highschool’s football team, Jess was a college athlete, and Court trained with the New York City Ballet. It’s incredibly hard to be a female athlete, so that’s one of the reasons why they got into stunts.

Why, at the end, keep only one testimony? How did you work with this material?
There were other testimonies at first. Court told me about an experience that they had on set when they had to don high heels, a mini skirt, and a crop top and speed through the streets of Seoul on a motorcycle in the rain. Men are usually in charge of safety, but women and non-binary stunt performers must often play sexualized roles because of the nature of the script. How all of the elements affect one another fascinated me. In terms of Jess’s testimony, the director wanted to get the stunt in one shot – this made
everything more precarious. I ended up only keeping Jess’s testimony because I wanted to include all of the specificities. And the story lent itself to be paired with the sublime image of the ocean, a kind of a Hitchcock-like bird eye view of Point Dume – a tourist spot in Malibu.

Few images, the three-part structure, the insistence on these breaking waves of the title. What led you to this conceptual and minimalist form ?
I suppose I often start with many elements and then strip most of them away. It was during the second interview, when Jess spoke about the importance of self worth and taking care of others, when I knew this was the most important element – the ethics of care. In order to highlight this, I only included one shot that I directed – the ocean shot. Jess’s testimony sort of dissolves into Alex’s shot of the ocean, and then the ocean takes over, and its thresholds of the waves spoke to me as a metaphor for other thresholds – the thresholds of the real. The stunt performers create an illusion but still must reckon with the stakes of the real. There is only black in the beginning as a way to remove the image of Jess’s body. I was thinking about Yvonne Rainer’s film “A Film About A Woman Who” in which she refuses to show the woman’s body.

Even if stuntmen are part of the film making, and the cinema illusion, what leads you to consider them above all as workers?
It’s important not to romanticize cinema and group all of its elements into “cinema,” but instead to parse out the elements so we can understand the diversity of labor involved. The kind of labor Jess describes in their testimony is obviously very physical but is also affective. Jess describes having to perform braveness in order to be taken seriously by the men in charge of the set, upon realizing that, in hindsight, they wished they thought more about the safety conditions. Jess also describes the stunt man she was in the car with as being a good friend of theirs, and they told one another that they loved each other as they were afraid for their lives before the stunt. Jess’s experience was incredibly emotional, and they also had to act like everything was fine in order to maintain good relationships with those in charge.

The only voice heard during the film is yours. Why this choice?
I felt that me performing the testimony allowed Jess opacity. I also wanted the testimony to feel at once both like it’s being performed and like it’s a story being told in the moment, and in order to get to that point, I had to rehearse, and it took me a while in the sound studio to figure it out. I didn’t want Jess to have to put that much work into it, because they are extremely busy. Also, the film is about body doubles and the slippages between reality and fiction, performance and documentary, so my performance of their testimony adds another dimension to this multiplicity of subjects.

What led you to add the last sequence, with this film, and to the way you decided to show it, with a kind of ghostly tone?
The last sequence features footage from Kelli slamming into the walls for The Exorcist. The footage reminded me of images of Saints’ bodies – suspended in impossible positions, and the slippage between appearing like a holy saint and like the female body in demonic possession. And though the men are pulling her around, and we get the feeling like she is like another object on set being positioned, she works well with them, and they are communicating effectively with one another. This collaboration all shifts when we see the shot of her in costume – she no longer can wear her athletic clothes and is only in a shirt. She appears to hit her crotch on the door frame while a man, dressed as a priest, performs a reaching action, as if trying to stop or catch her. I decided to slow the footage down so that all of the small gestures by her and the men are exaggerated – so we can see how the men assert their authority but also seem cautious so as not to touch her too much. I unsynced the sound to create a dissociative feeling – because I felt the costuming dissociated her from herself as she was immediately sexualized.

And how did you conceive and work on the sound?
The sound is also structural. We avoided adding many other sounds to my voice, in order to let language be the only material. Then, the ocean waves eventually drown out the language, as the ocean image drowns out our imaginary picture of the stunt in our minds. The final section was the most challenging. I knew I wanted to keep a lot of the original sound from the behind-the-scenes footage, which includes the men’s voices and some sound from the equipment. Sara and I worked for a while figuring out how to make it audible but subtle enough – too much sonic information away from the details of the slowed-down gestures. The water was important. When I saw that ”The Exorcist” stunt involved a rain machine outside of the set, I knew that water would be the connecting element drawing the ocean and the set apparatus together, and the film wouldn’t need much else.

Interviewed by Nicolas Feodoroff

  • Flash Competition

Technical sheet

USA, Russia, Latvia / 2021 / 19’

Original Version : English.
Script : Lucy Kerr, Jess Harbeck.
Photography : Alexey Kurbatov.
Editing : Lucy Kerr, Kārlis Bergs.
Sound : Lucy Kerr, Sara Suárez.
Casting : Jess Harbeck, Court Schwartz, Kelli Scarangello.
Production : Lucy Kerr (None).
Filmography : Sensible Ecstasy, 2019. Lydon, 2018.