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Gill AddisonClick here to Print this Page
Sarah Miles
The opening paragraph to Siri Hustvedt short essay Yonder begins with a particularly effective and poignant summation of the word 'yonder'.

''My father once asked me if I knew what 'Yonder' was. I said I thought yonder was another word for there. He smiled and said, ''No, yonder is between here and there'''' the summation continues '' In linguistic terms, this means you can never really find yourself yonder. Once you arrive at yonder tree, it becomes here and recedes forever into the imaginary horizon.''

Family histories have something 'yonder' about them. No matter how open, or how much we know about our family story and our family members, there is always something intangible and out of reach. 2001: A Family Odyssey. Ophelia's Version attempts to speak of the unspeakable, to weave a history of Miles' family through the recounting of stories and myths. To allow the unfolding familial dramas, secrets and stories, Miles asked each family member how they would like to be represented in a film about the family. The idea of one's identity within the family being suggested by either specific clips from cinema's history, a song or an image, brings a very real sense of intimacy to the film. It denotes each person's private sense of who they are, their relationship to the family and to a collective past. Miles' sister, for example, chose Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now.

Miles' role in this particular film is explicitly performed. Rather than Hare Girl or Bunny Girl she is bunny Ophelia, a reference to Hamlet's lover. Yet this Ophelia is reviving drowned stories, rather than drowning herself. As she interviews family members about particular events and memories she is both a participant in the events/memories and an observer in their re-telling, existing both inside and outside their unfolding dramas. This recalls Annette Kuhn's notion of ''memory works'', when private and public spheres fold into one another to create 'an extended network of meaning that brings together the personal with the familial, the cultural, the economic, the social, and the historical'. (A, Kuhn (1995) Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination. London, Verso.) In one particular fragment Miles' mother talks of depression and how the character of Holly Golightly became iconic to her and her mother. Her testimony is formally enacted by clips from the film Breakfast at Tiffanys, intercut with family photographs while the song Moon River is played in tandem with her voice over. Presented in landscape format, photographs of Miles' mother echo the horizontal lines of Millais' painting of Ophelia,

Ideally within the family unit we would like to feel that no one-person narrative takes precedence over another, yet in all families there is a jockeying for position concerning whose story should be heard and validated. Throughout 2001: A Family Odyssey. Ophelia's Version, the use of interviews and portraits of different familial generations explore how subjectivities and identities are played out in the embroidered complexity of a family remembering and making sense of itself. A disruptive use of entwined non-diegetic sounds and music suggests a multiplicity of narratives rather than the surfacing of a singular coherent view of the family. Miles' work is grounded in the personal and experiential, her films enact identity as something fluid, multiple and even contradictory. They navigate material and content that is awkward and difficult to define or declare, where there is a hint of something hidden, something unsettling. These nuanced undertones operate alongside the main themes of Miles' films; love in I Love You, girlhood memories in Damsel Jam and family in 2001: A Family Odyssey. Ophelia's Version. Films such as these, and other later works like No Place (2006) and Magnificent Ray (2000), explore personal stories, memory and trauma to create a place and site for the re-vision and re-telling of past events. We cannot write the present with clarity and only through hindsight does flirting with the past become manageable.
Gill Addison
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