“I didn’t want to pull a scroll out of my vagina and read it in public, but the culture’s terror of my making overt what it wished to suppress fueled the image. It was essential to demonstrate this lived action about “vulvic space” against the abstraction of the female body and its loss of meaning.”
When I found out that pioneering feminist artist Carolee Schneemann passed away March 6th I was shocked as I had been thinking about her performance art in relation to Ana Mendieta – the artist on whom my screenplay’s character Elvira is based. As well as having a beautiful body, keen intellect and courageous talent Carolee’s legacy as a painter, filmmaker, photographer and author has a unique space in American art history. One of the basic themes in feminist art has been its portrayal of the female body and identity
as each woman imagines, rather than as a fulfillment of male expectations and desires. Although Ana Mendieta was working at the same time and using her body as she does in this scene when she asks members of her Women’s Circle to cover it with clay, she was focused on female energy as part of nature. Carolee was using her eroticism to counter objectification.
The ideology of the feminist artists in the 1970s appears in stark contrast to the tenets of today’s #MeToo movement’s protest against sexual victimization. Fueled by accusations against famous celebrities, politicians and clergy that create a social media frenzy, those abused now feel freer to tell their truth and be accepted as credible. Both phenomena are valid expressions in the cultural matrix of their times. My screenplay “The Goddess in Exile” expresses aspects of both. Although my character Elvira uses her body to celebrate the feminine in her art, her husband Hans kills her when he feels threatened by her prestige and power.
In recent past issues of Scene4, I presented the beginning scenes of my screenplay THE GODDESS IN EXILE, a fictionalized account of the brief life of Cuban born artist Ana Mendieta that deals with themes of wife murder, the natural versus the man-made world and the mythic feminine. Ana Mendieta’s death at age 36 became a scandal that rocked the art world at its zenith making headlines. My screenplay adapts the basic story of her alleged murder by her husband, prominent minimalist artist Carl Andre, who was acquitted by a judge without a jury and explores the premise ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. The action takes place in the vivid milieu of the New York City art scene in the 1970's, capturing the excitement of the elite intelligentsia with character vignettes from the highest echelons of American artists and art world doyennes.
89 - INT. HANS LOFT - EVENING
ELVIRA, wearing only underwear, and HANS are sitting on the loft floor, sipping champagne from a bottle they pass to each other and listening to music. They study HANS' installation.
What do you think?
ELVIRA gets up and picks up four additional wood blocks from the floor. She puts them on top of the four pieces in such a way that they form a more dynamic design. Turning towards HANS, she dances alluringly towards him in the same way she did at the Guggenheim.
Realizing ELVIRA's expertise, HANS is in emotional shock. He gets up and walks away.
ELVIRA walks to her studio.
ELVIRA'S (voice over)
After Hans and I got married so spontaneously and visited his mother in Kansas, I sense a fear in him, I don't understand. Maybe I bring a dimension into his life he is afraid of. But I am so happy to have my studio. I can make big sculptures.
90 - INT. ELVIRA'S STUDIO - EVENING
ELVIRA has put her smaller sculpted figures on top shelves and is now working on large clay figures of women juxtaposed with natural forms - wood and stones. In the corner is a pile of leaves, tree branches, stones and dried flowers ELVIRA took from Kansas. The tree stump HANS gave her is now a bas-relief with female torso.
ELVIRA, tipsy and laughing, leans on the tree sculpture and hugs it.
91 - INT. LOFT - EVENING
HANS walks towards ELVIRA'S studio, but when he hears her shrill laughing, his face turns livid and he walks away.
92 - INT. ELVIRA'S STUDIO - EVENING
Sensing HANS’ mood from behind the door ELVIRA stops laughing, gets up and opens the door.
93 - INT. LOFT - EVENING
ELVIRA takes HANS by the arm and leads him to the bedroom.
94 - INT. LOFT BEDROOM - EVENING
[A screen divides HANS' loft bedroom from his studio. The bedroom has a large platform bed, TV, elegant armoire and mirror.]
HANS and ELVIRA lie down on the bed covered with white sheets. HANS lies flat with his arms under his head. ELVIRA rests on her side with arm across his chest. She slides her hand down to his groin.
No, I can't.
CLOSE ON the white sheets.
95 - INT. HANS LOFT - EVENING
A few weeks later. PAN OUT from white sheet. ELVIRA lies naked in bed covered with white sheets. HANS is dressing in front of the armoire mirror putting on a blue silk shirt.
Are you sure you don't want to come? Mrs. Pierpont is a top collector.
I perform at the Women's Circle tonight. You know I was invited.
HANS goes over to the bed and pulls the sheet off her chest and kisses it.
You're going naked?
You can practice only in front of women.
And you promise to flirt only with the rich women you meet tonight.
If I put on the charm, maybe I'll make a sale.
CLOSE ON HANS' blue shirt.
96 - INT. MRS. PIERPONT'S HOME - EVENING
That evening a well-dressed international crowd of wealthy guests are being served cocktails and oudeurves in Mrs. Piermont’s elegant home.
MRS. PIERPONT [a tidy looking woman in her sixties with blonde hair wearing a short black suit and pearls who speaks with affected impeccability] holds HANS by the arm and brings him over to a richly dressed Italian woman.
Romana - This is the sculptor, Hans Whit. He had a solo at the Guggenheim last year.
MRS. PIERPONT steps away.
We're redecorating our villa. Would you have some pieces we could look at?
I only show in galleries and museums.
Oh really, I'm meeting some curators for dinner soon. My friend Eduardo is here to purchase pieces for his gallery sculpture garden in Spain. You are welcome to join me.
ROMANA looks at her watch and walks with HANS to the foyer where a butler helps her on with her coat. HANS takes her by the arm as they leave.
Come along. You're a marvelous escort.
The door to the PIERPONT'S home closes.
97 - INT. COMMUNITY SPACE - WOMEN'S CIRCLE - EVENING
The same evening ELVIRA enters the community space wearing a sheet draped around her with dried flowers and leaves in her hair. She carries a bucket of moist terra cotta clay.
A group of about 15 women are seated in a circle quietly meditating on lit candles. ELVIRA enters the center of the circle and lets sheet fall. JOANNE smiles at her. She stands naked.
My offering tonight is my body and clay. Take the clay and cover my body. Tell me how you feel.
JOANNE gets up and takes a glob of clay from the pail covering ELVIRA shoulders and back.
Elvira's flesh and the clay are one and the same.
Each woman in the circle gets up, dips their hands in the clay they rub on ELVIRA’s body until she is completely covered.