In the run up to her live drawing show, What the F**k is Lesbian Cinema, and the screening of her new film, The Book of Gabrielle, Lisa Gornick briefly introduces herself to the audience members before she swiftly begins to draw some of them, a projector allowing us all to watch the process in real time. Handing out portraits and flirty asides with charm and a kind of frantic nervousness, Lisa offers an arresting beginning and although the audience is at first caught off guard, her humour and wit soon work their way around the room and everyone is more or less settled by the start of the show.
The show itself is a fast paced exploration of cinema, in particular lesbian cinema and Gornick’s experience of it as both an actor and a director. Using pen, paper, and watercolour, she explores not only what lesbian cinema might be (although she wisely steers clear of providing an actual definition) but also the history of cinema, and why it remains so important and relevant. Watching someone draw their thoughts is an intimate affair, like watching someone brush their teeth or do their make-up, and on occasions this intimacy felt forced, as if Gornick wasn’t quite convinced we deserved to know what her thoughts were on certain matters. The most interesting parts of the show are the explorations of money and power (and of course patriarchy) in lesbian cinema, which allowed Gornick to discuss the politics of the genre, as well as giving her ample opportunity to showcase both her drawing and charm.
After the format of a live drawing show it at first seemed odd to switch to film but once the eyes and brain have adjusted, The Book of Gabrielle reveals itself to be a funny and engaging dramedy which explores friendship, love, art and sex. It tells the story of Gabrielle (played by Gornick), a graphic artist working on a book called How to Do It, a kind of erotic guidebook without the boring instruction bits, who meets a famous erotic writer, Saul, at a book signing. They form an intimate but platonic friendship which is often misunderstood by others in their lives, as well as occasionally by themselves. Through voiceover, as well as dialogue and clips of Gabrielle drawing, the film explores Saul’s and Gabrielle’s deepening friendship while also ruminating on Gabrielle’s relationship with a younger woman, publishing, art, writing, sex and sexuality.
With so much to think about the film felt a little cluttered, but Gornick always managed to reign it in and give the audience a laugh to cut through the earnestness that crept into the film at times. In the scenes where Gabrielle is drawing, the camera lingers not only on the drawings but also on the world that surrounded her as she worked, including a park or alongside a canal. This was both visually and politically striking, especially in the era of the privatisation of public space, and demonstrates Gornick’s ability to playfully explore a wide range of challenging and disparate ideas and concepts.
A live drawing show followed by a film which explores drawing might sound a little overwhelming, but thanks to Gornick’s wit, warmth and willingness to reveal her process, both aspects of the event came together to create an environment which allowed both forms to be appreciated and enjoyed.
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