Lisa Duggan, Professor from New York
WOMEN IN LOVE
by Karen Everett
Karen Everett’s video diary, WOMEN IN LOVE, is at once a
disturbing, obsessive personal memoir, a collective biography of
a group of highly accomplished, notorious lesbian sex radicals in
San Francisco, and a history of a decade of struggle and experimentation
among an entire generational cohort of mostly white, mostly working
class lesbian artists and activists.
Everett’s one hour documentary focuses on her own love life
and community of friends, lovers and ex’s during the 1980s.
At the age of 40, Everett began documenting the sexual and romantic
lives around her and she began to wonder–can love ever last?
While focusing on her own journey through non-monogamy, polyamory,
and the work of long term friendship, she also manages to illuminate
the range of personal/political experience that defined the 1980s–questions
about finding love, commitment, freedom, butch/femme erotic dynamics,
child rearing, breaking up, having sex with men, and maintaining
a network of sustaining comrades over the long haul.
This portrait features a group of creative dykes who are at once
completely typical and utterly exceptional–Everett, a documentary
filmmaker who teaches at U.C. Berkeley, renowned erotic photographer
Phyllis Christopher (at work on a soon to be released retrospective
DVD of her photographs), porn entrepreneurs Shar Rednour (also a
playwright, actor and spoken word artist) and Jackie Strano (formerly
of the band the Hail Marys, featured on the commercial lesbian noir
film Bound). This is some major talent–but also the kind of
lesbian friendship group organized about both work and daily life,
very familiar to dyke activists of a certain age. Their personal
struggles, as the classic feminist saying goes, are political, and
Sometimes WOMEN IN LOVE is hard to watch as Everett’s absorption
with her filming overlaps with a kind of self-focus that verges
on narcissism, and tries the patience of her friends and lovers.
Her persistent return to the problem of joining commitment and freedom
in love goes around and around, seeming to go nowhere. But in the
end, as she puts the camera down at long last for two years and
then returns to conclude–we can see the arch of change more
clearly. Jackie and Shar get married in San Francisco, and declare
their allegiance to basic emotional (if not sexual) monogamy. Everett
and her lover of several years, Erin, express their objection to
the state regulation of relationships and the dedication to a polyamorous
future. Meanwhile, both couples collaborate to try to have children.
This pretty much captures the historical shifts from the 1980s through
the 1990s to the present moment, for the white baby boomer lesbian
But as much as this film overtly focuses on the problems of sex,
romance, and long term commitment.....its true subject is friendship.
The relationship between Everett and her ex lover and best friend
Phyllis Christopher is the anchor and center for the entire film’s
trajectory. It is this love and connection on which the welfare
of our narrator, Karen, truly depends. When Everett loses sight
of this emotional core, and focuses instead on her sexual and romantic
adventures and struggles, Phyllis leaves the country. This loss
ultimately torpedoes the film project. When Everett picks the camera
up again two years later, it is to note with joy and relief that
Phyllis has returned, new lover in tow–and they have moved
in together again. This is the real love story that drives WOMEN
IN LOVE. It is ultimately the signal failure of the film, and of
Everett personally, that she does not fully realize this bottom
line narrative energy in her film and the life it obsessively records.
But it is also the signal success and fascination of this film that
its subject returns us over and over again from the high drama of
sex, romance and coupling–to the quieter sustaining bedrock
of friendship, whose vicissitudes we neglect at our collective peril.
Lisa Duggan, Professor, New York University
here to view clips