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Daughter Rite

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Long considered a landmark of feminist filmmaking, Michelle Citron's 48-minute 1978 film deals with mother-daughter relations, but its self-questioning form and avoidance of prescriptive judgments make the film lively and relevant today. An opening autobiographical voice-over tells us that the film stemmed from a personal crisis the filmmaker underwent at age 28. This voice-over returns repeatedly, always heard over home-movie footage that Citron has rephotographed, slowing it down so that individual frames last just long enough to be perceived separately; this invites us to examine the tiniest gesture, to consider each choice of composition and camera angle. Alternating with this grainy footage are long takes of two sisters conversing about their lives and their mother. Because of the documentary style, for much of the film one assumes these are the now-grown two little girls often seen together in the home movies; at the film's end we learn they're actually performers. This revelation calls the "truth" of the home-movie footage and accompanying narration into question as well. The jerky rhythm of the rephotography and apparent deception of the documentary footage encourage active viewing, allowing us to see the biases inherent in every aspect of the film. The result is to bring an almost endless loop of questions to the viewer's mind, casting doubt on family relations, memory, and perception itself. At the University of Chicago the film will be shown with Ngozi Onwurah's 1991 short Body Beautiful, and Citron will talk afterward. At the Museum of Contemporary Art, Daughter Rite is one of six films on the bill "Rituals and Definitions," which is the first program in the series Made in Chicago: Independent Films, presented in conjunction with the MCA's Art in Chicago, 1945-1995 exhibition. The other films are: Wide Angle Saxon, by Owen Land (ne George Landow), Dana Hodgdon's Dialectic Definitions, Fred Marx's Hiding Out for Heaven, David E. Simpson's Paradiso, and Wayne Boyer's George and Martha Revisited, a fascinating, almost baroque rephotography of a commercial film using a custom camera the filmmaker built himself. University of Chicago, 1212 E. 59th, Monday, January 13, 7:00, 773-702-8575; also Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago, Thursday, January 16, 8:00, 312-397-4010.

--Fred Camper

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.

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