I cry therefore I suffer

I cry therefore I suffer.


Few days ago I go to the Roxie Theatre in San Francisco to watch the documentary about Francesca Woodman’s family, The Woodmans precisely, which is directed by Scott Willis who is present at the screening for a q&a session.

In a nushell, the story is the following: Francesca Woodman is a very famous American photographer who committed suicide at the age of 22 in 1981. Her father, mother and brother – all artists – have found in art a way to survive this tragic loss, and the documentary is interesting because it investigates the family dynamics in an environment in which Art is a everyday necessity.

The film is narrated chronologically by close people, by the artworks created before and after the tragedy, and by the words from her own personal diary, which seem to comment from the afterlife. During all this, her parents, Betty and George – it took them three years to be convinced to participate to this documentary – tell about life with their daughter with an intelligent and elegant honesty, never shedding tears but lingering, sometimes, in a few very hard and paralysing silences. It’s no surprise that thanks to their love Francesca’s work has finally found fame many years after her death. In short, at a certain point the time to talk about this suicide comes. A close-up of a childhood friend, with whom Francesca broke up before undertaking here artistic career, and one of a journalist, who both talk about the moment of the suicide news, announces a swan-dive into the infinite land of clichés. And here they are, bursting into tears, one after the other one. And so on for several seconds, many, too many, neverevending as in a exceptionally sycophantic glorification of the tv of pain chanted by two practically unrelated to the whole story. The following scene, instead, shows the father George talking about her daughter with love and serenity from the vineyards of their house in Tuscany.

The film ends and I raise my hand to ask the director why he thought the spectator needed a scene like that which is only good to function as a collection plate, and to create such a contrast with the father figure with a questionable editorial choice. And Scott Willis explains that at first he didn’t include that scene, but that the editor insisted on inserting it; the director apoligizes saying that it didn’t want it to be a malicious move. Ok, perfect. But after me, a thirty-year-old woman raises her hand and states the opposite: that that was actually the scene she loved the most because during the entire movie Francesca’s parents have never let themselves cry because being artists “they are selfish and they just think about themselves.” A roar of clapping hands follows.

I leave the cinema rather frightened. Am I correct? Are you telling me that not only we find certainty just in permitted behavioural forms – I cry therefore I suffer, I don’t cry therefore I am an hibernated asshole capable of infanticide – but that we can also judge these parents and sit on their twenty years of pain with all the weight of our conformist mediocrity and redeem the memory of this young suicide by wetting our popcorns with tears? I ran home terrified, like in those movies in which all the city has turned into a den of zombies ready to eat your brains. If Ovid used to say that with tears one can break diamonds, you should know that with sharp sticks one can pierce zombies, and these guys seem to be visibly multiplying. Mass conformism is causing more casualties than expected. For god’s sake, arm yourself at night!

Sada Ranis