Inside Out 2014 Review: Masculinity/Femininity
Russell Sheaffer made Masculinity/Femininity to explore the gap left by his short film Masculinity & Me, starring James Franco. Masculinity/Femininity gets off to an awkward start with Sheaffer and his crew literally waiting in ambush outside of Susan Stryker’s home. Stryker is polite about it but vocal about her surprise at them waiting outisde her front door and rolling the cameras as she walks up the street, house keys in hand. It seems an odd way indeed to start off a documentary. “So Susan, what is your favourite thing about being a woman?”, Sheaffer begins. Stryker answers this question eloquently especially given that she has just arrived home but makes her scepticism of the film clear, “I kinda think those what’s a man do what’s a woman do questions are kind of bullshit and I hope that’s not what we’re going to be doing today.”
Masculinity/Femininity has all the elements of a great documentary film but suffers from trying to be too many things at once. The end result is a hybrid documentary/art film. Some scenes are even shot with toy cameras that Sheaffer bought from Ebay for $20 a piece. With subjects like B. Ruby Rich, Susan Stryker, Barbara Hammer, John Greyson, and Yvonne Tasker why would such gimmicks even be necessary? All they do is take away from the subjects by unnecessarily distracting the viewer. With the exception of Greyson sitting in silence for four minutes and 33 seconds – in which he uses John Cage’s famous compostion as a tool of protest – do we really need all of the other pauses in the film? Recurring motifs include subjects speaking then the screen going to black (lost footage perhaps?) and subjects starring into the camera or into the distance while their monologues are played as a voice over.
Masculinity/Femininity is worth watching for monologues by gender theorists like Stryker and Jack Halberstam and an interview with experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer.