Handheld pixelvision sync sound as a hand frantically tears stuff off the wall, pushes stuff off the desk into a drawer. Family photos, booth photos, a picture of Patty Smith, newspaper clippings, coins . . . cut to Elisabeth betacam sitting on a couch with about fifty textbooks which she is editing with a bottle of White-Out. While one audio track feeds us the more of that sound of tearing and two low piano notes, a lispy calm voiceover tells us:
Sarah Marks was just a kid. But at my sister's birthday she stood at the picnic with the eyes of a burnout. I played grown-up too but stared too long as she stuck her finger in the ketchup while the rest of us ate our cupcakes. As far as I could tell, that mouthful was all she had. It was 1975. There was no name for it but I knew what she was talking about.
(SWALLOW shown in big letters over a video monitor) while those two piano notes turn into Carol King's "I feel the Earth. Move. Under my feet" . . . Quick cuts of found footage --seventies feminist marches, beauty contests, little girl karate class, (more big letters superimposed: A VIDEOTAPE BY ) Super8 home movies of a birthday party, Betacam footage of Elisabeth spinning joyfully in an urban park. (ELISABETH SUBRIN) afros, busing, big old dinosaur video cameras from the seventies, newspapers articles about Jimmy Carter.
Soundtrack crossfades out of Carol King into PJ Harvey on one track. Image track taken up by appropriated documentary footage about 'abnormal behavior'. The camera watches still images which dissolve into each other --images of a 70's secretary in big-collared shirt and black jumper as she walks around a room.
A deep male voice occupies the other audio track, tries to give us a definition of abnormal behavior. The secretary smokes a cigarette. As the voiceover continues, we see a shot of Elisabeth as the secretary, smoking a cigarette.
Male voiceover fades out and up comes a beeping and mechanical chattering sound.
We see an image of several official looking pamphlets about depression. One says the search for cures.
We return to Elisabeth dressed as a secretary with
a grid laid over the image. Cut to a doctor doing an examination on a child
and then back to the shot of a gridded Elisabeth on which we zoom in and
out and refocus continually. The mechanical beeping sound continues with
a male voice calling out commands like pull out track right.
More homemovie footage of happy little girls with the grid overlaid accompany our own narrator as she tells us:
I was ten years old and precocious. Sara was six and smarter. I tried not to notice the contradictory words that hung silently around her. Sara had this smartass way of talking that I liked, though it didn't make her popular. We pretended not to look when she couldn't stop from vomiting on herself in the lunchline. No-one spoke about her screaming fits or the little miss perfect act she pulled on adults. It was like not seeing it was the only way to save her. And it was only when she'd shut up that you remembered what they told you. That there was a problem, and it was sad, and that no one knew how to explain her.
Other images underneath this voice-over include pixelvision of a sponge absorbing soapy water, negative footage of a little girl holding her mom's hand with the word BEHAVING superimposed over it -- to which the prefix 'MIS' is added a second or two later.
Now we see a bottle of anti-depressants picked up off of a photo of a smiling Farrah-haired teenager, a torso and thighs split by a pair of white underwear, girls walking across a log. Sound of dripping water. Negative footage of a boy's bedroom with words superimposed words like BED, FOOTBALL, PLAYS, TOYS, BOOK. Intercut with a tilting shot of a girl in short skirt and kneesocks writing in a diary. The male voiceover tells a case history of a houswife named Helen who displays abnormal behavior. The sound of typing. Out of focus and speeded up footage of a woman at a desk underneath text: 5. PSYCHOMOTOR AGITATION OR RETARDATION NEARLY EVERY DAY.
The sound of children playing. Cross faded stills
of a young woman with messy hair and darkframed glasses wrestling with
Pixelvision footage of 'Free to Be You and Me' cut with super8 footage of a parade. Sound of dripping water continues. Accompanied by a smattering of applause. Appropriated footage of an illustration of a uterus. Girl scouts trying to march in time. A close up of a grammer quiz. (What word means to learn? Learning)
Voiceover tells us:
1. She had long dark hair and an awkward smile. 2. She wore brown corduroys and a blue sweater on the middle of July. 3. They liked playing at her house because she hid malted milkballs and M&Ms in her bedroom dresser. 4. She was the first person in her class to read Are you there God, it's me, Margaret and the last one to get her period. 5. She got along with her parents; she helped out with dinner every night. 6. They told my sister that Sarah could not endure the possibility of failure. Every time she went back to the hospital or changed schools, my mom was on the phone with Sarah's mom. This was the closest we got to drama in our house and we watched it like TV.
Image track: sped up footage of what looks like more of
the 'abnormal behavior' docmentary. Panning shot of what looks like a perfect
family home. Applause fades and bassline of a Thalia Zedek song
Sound and image of marching women chanting 2-4-6-8. A woman speaking in a rally saying 'yes, we are difficult to tame' . Rescanned footage of the Oprah show cut with a negative video shot of Elisabeth sitting at a desk looking through a book. Sound of the Oprah show, guests discussing ways of coping with depression. Pixelvision of a microphone being pushed across a desk. Oprah guests talk about medicating for depression. Door slams on audio track.
Footage of a 1974 news parade film reel --quick shot of Nixon. Sound of film projector. Male narrator lists symptoms of depression: difficulties in making decisions, pessimism, frequent crying, loss of self esteem. Super8 footage of two small girls on a beach Footage of a little girl's bedroom in 'Poltergeist' gone haywire, toys flying, water flowing from under the bed cut with the same footage as the opening shot of the hand throwing things into a drawer and what looks like Vietnam protest/riot footage. Male voiceover: suicidal tendencies. Sound from Poltergeist: little girl screaming.
Footage of a teleprompter with text about the Vietnam war scrolls as a Voiceover tells us:
We weren't allowed to watch TV. Like my dad I was a lawyer and tried to argue the nightly news was just as violent as prime time. (Elisabeth arguing in front of TV monitor with a typed text on it.) A scanning of a desk with a computer and texts like Ms magazine and Our Bodies Our Selves) I won the argument and during the vietnam war, the TV was turned off.
Happy banjo music from 'Free to Be You and Me' (there's a land that I see where the children are free). Appropriated birds-eye shot of children spinning hand holding in circles, a girl tightens a seat beat, Text on the screen: 4. INSOMNIA OR HYPERINSOMNIA NEARLY EVERYDAY. Footage of Vietnam war quick cut and half-dissolved with little girl's diary pages. Repeated shot of the microphone on the desk begin pushed away. Sound and image of kids fighting and screaming with an adult.
While everyone else was separating, in my house there was a mother and a father, McGovern was president and if I worked hard I could be anything I wanted. In their world, I was supposed to be fortunate and safe. They did everything right. Footage of a girl taking fig newtons out of a dresser drawer. More books being perused. Pixelvision of Elisabeth adding up a list of calories consumed that day. Voiceover: and so did I.
Sound and Image tracks: Elisabeth grown up playing ninth grader, depressed, talking to her mother who is beheaded by the camera, reading MS magazine. Mom cannot placate daughter. 'You're a beautiful girl,' the mother says. 'You're biased.' says Elisabeth.
TEXT: 7 FEELINGS OF WORTHLESSNESS OR EXCESSIVE GUILT WHICH MAY BE DELUSIONAL. Male Voice: Where I come from? Where do I fit in? Guitar underneath chatty chipper phone conversation while pixelvision of Elisabeth whites out underneath her eyes. text: 2. DIMINISHED PLEASURE IN ALL OR ALMOST ALL ACTIVITES. Audio: jazzy swinging cocktail music.
Voicover: So it's fifth grade, my friends have all hit that I-hate-my-parents stage. Super8 footage of raucous little girls doing the bump A tray is placed down with a Happy Mother's Day card on it. Its getting kind of complicated. We have a ritual. Its called name that feeling. Footage of a monkey pressing a level to catch a glimpse of a doll which is supposed to signify its mother. Voicover: She makes dinner. I try to find the problem. Maybe it was being picked last from kickball or that teacher who told me (putting a bandaid on a shin. Pulling up a sock) to stop interrupting. The perfect social worker, she makes constructive suggestions. I sullenly point out the flaws in her solutions. I bring her down with me until all she can do is sigh and tell me later it will be better. I swallow it like a junkie (footage of bricks being stacked) but nothings getting fixed.
Audio: Staticky sound of Shirley Temple singing "On the good ship lol-li-pop" crossfades with moody siren-sounding music Text: DEPRESSED MOOD MOST OF THE DAY (partly obscured by a body in a leotard.) Image and sound: 50's-ish looking footage of a libraryful of people applauding a young smiling blonde teenager. Image: scanning of a neighborhood block. Scanning of books. The girl in kneesocks again.
Sound from a film noir as a girl ducttapes a marker to a pistol and writes 'DEAR MOM AND DAD' and then puts the gun down.
Text: 3: SIGNIFICANT WEIGHTLOSS OR WEIGHT GAIN WITHOUT DIETING OR DECREASE OR INCREASE IN APPETITE NEARLY EVERY DAY.
Silent footage of Shirley Temple entertaining a trainful of men. Static partially obscures Voiceover:
Later. Later when Sarah'd messed up that body so badly that her head seemed to topple over her shrunken frame. There was something cavalier about the way she refused to notice our shock. Sarah knew how to perform. (shot of Elisabeth crouching to a trayful of food on the floor.) At dinner parties, she'd entertain my little sisters in the kitchen with her evil schoolteacher or mean witch imitation. (Shot of Jennifer Subrin in a short dress stomping around a street yelling into a cellular phone. I was older and I was jealous because I was always sitting around waiting for that payoff you're supposed to get from sitting with the adults.Shot of Elisabeth sitting at an empty tableful of food. Sync footage of Jennifer in a Farrah Fawcett T-shirt acting out the part of a manic busineswoman. screaming about the sound of printer.
(text: 8: DIMINISHED ABILITY TO THINK OF CONCENTRATE OR INDECISIVENESS NEARLY EVERY DAY ) Image and Sound of manual typing. Sync: Elisabeth acting out the part of a seventeen year old talking to a guidance councelor about preparing for the SATS. Cannot be consoled. 'I'm not putting pressure on you, you're putting pressure on yourself 'Maybe I shouldn't go to college'
More sped up footage from the abbornal behavior documentary. Voices and siren sounds.
Voiceover: By the time we got to high school there were plenty of Sarahs. I should know, I reported on it for my high school newspaper. Funky bassline with processed whiny voice 'I really like your tie.' Cheerleaders at a basketball game cut with images from abnormal behavior documentary. Voicover: At night they'd throw themselves out bedroom windows, they'd get high off their parents' bottles, they'd fuck the wrong guys, they'd skip English to binge on Pizza Hut salads. (Shot of Elisabeth in room playing Powerjournalist with a microphone. Shot of a hand whiting out the eyes of specific girls in a high school yearbook. Voicover: They'd spend halfyears in hospitals and semesters on mescaline and still score on the SATs. It was 1983, there were careers, not consciousness. And at that moment of oppurtunity the Sarahs spoke loud and clear.
Powerjournalist looks like she's eating the microphone, slugs Diet Coke. Image montage: Shot of a letter addressed 'Dear Besty' mixed with gridded rallying feminists again with beeping chattering soundd mixed with shots from 'Network' of Joanna saying 'Next year we're number 1!' Shots of a newspaper article about anorexia nervosa by Betsy Subrin. Negative footage of a girl's room with text superimposed: LIBERATION, SAT prep booklet with text: LOVE, a dairy,a woman stepping up and looking down text: PERFORMANCE, SEPARATION, HUNGER Audio: sound from 'Network': Max telling Joanna she's television incarnate, pure madness. Sound of typing and water dripping. Shot of women running in suit and sneakers. Shot of Elisabeth eating a mouthful of ice cream.
(text: 9. RECURRENT THOUGHTS OF DEATH) Shot of Elisabeth smoking a cigarette pounding on a typewriter with a hammer. Sync sound: Elisabeth with a friend who is trying to get her to go to a birthday party to which she is too depressed to go. You're going to be so bummed if you don't go.' 'You're not really helping.
Voiceover: 1: You're nineteen, you can't read anymore. You tell the university doctor that the words won't stay in your head. (A book on a naked lap with stomach.) 2: You weigh 84 pounds.You know what you're doing is really stupid. Obsessed with the space growing between your legs, you know you're an imposter in Sarah's country. Shot of stuff being shoveled in the drawer. Shot of a woman crashing through a plate of glass. Shot of two girls kissing. But like a brain's daily draining (the 'search for cures' pamphlet again) or a knowledge you can't touch, this will not wait any longer. (shot of the girl from Poltergeist looking at TV static 3. you are vicious, relentless, a cruel joke. (little girl screaming at mother, pointing gunfingers at father) silent, impossible, unrecognizable. 22.214.171.124.8.9.
(shot of a hand pushing button on a tape player which is set down on a a desk next to the microphone we've seen pushed away before. Tape sound into microphone: She wore brown corduroys and a blue sweater in the middle of July. Spoken again louder: She wore brown corduroys and a blue sweater in the middle of July! Camera scans endless pages of text written and typed. Voice in increasingly indignant, louder on the tape recorder: She wore brown corduroys and a blue sweater in the middle of July! Camera backs away, reveals entire room as voice continues. Diet Coke bottle, couch. Sound: music fades up, credits roll looking like rescanned tv footage.