THAT WOMAN uses as source material the original Barbara Walters interview with Monica Lewinsky, which is intercut with a “re-creation” of the interview. This re-staging uses transcripts of the actual dialogue, as well as a few interpretive scenes that I scripted. Additional visual elements include the “commercial breaks” from the original broadcast, as well as a “breaking news” segment, which announced the death of a film giant.
Ms. Lewinsky is played by a women bearing a remarkable physical resemblance to the original, and Barbara Walters is played by George Kuchar. The make-up, costumes, set, lighting, and camera set-ups, are a facsimile of the original, albeit without the stunning high-production values displayed in the network original.
Recalling elements of this scandal, the performers bravely made their improvisational way through scenes including a cigar, and an audio performance by our actress of HAPPY BIRTHDAY MR. PRESIDENT.
This work gave me the opportunity to utilize the video medium itself to mimic and subvert the seductive power of media spectacle and the ways in which an addiction to scandal has eroded our society’s ability to engage in civil dialogue. Horrified and flabbergasted by the unfolding political media spectacle in 1998-2000, I was recording the constant TV barrage of “live reports” on VHS, not knowing how I might eventually respond in a work of my own. As a mature woman and artist, I was interested in unpacking the layers of coding and performativity surrounding the broadcast interview. While Lewinsky was seemingly put forward by another mature woman, Walters, to present her own story and take ownership of her narrative, the structure and gloss of the presentation–through the structure of the questions, the application of seductive makeup, and camera techniques–emphasized her mediated sexual desirability over her words. In THAT WOMAN, the Lewinsky performer is given a chance to shift outside of the restaged moment in order to testify to her own struggle to exert control over the cultural perceptions of herself as an object not only of male gaze and desire, but of societal projections of a misogynist culture. During this saga of national trauma, private experience became public, asking the spectator to question: what is the true nature of obscenity?
I was deeply indebted to George Kuchar, who lent himself to the flying-by-the-seat-of-our-pants studio segments; and generously brought to his scenes his own trademark emotional honesty and scalding humor. A note for sentimental viewers, the production took place in his long-time classroom, Studio 8, at SFAI