We end Women-In-Horror month with a look at Izzy Lee’s powerful, violent short LEGITIMATE, which was born (pun intended) from U.S. Representative Todd Akin’s comment regarding pregnancy – and how women have a way to “shut that whole thing down” in cases of “legitimate rape”. Like millions of others, Lee was disgusted by the comment, and decided – uniquely – to craft her response in the form of a film.
LEGITIMATE runs less than six minutes, but that’s enough to provide some appropriately shocking imagery that broadly drives its point home. Lee begins the film with Akin’s quote in stark black and white, letting his ignorance wash over the audience before settling into the story of an Akin-like politician entering a brothel, where he’s greeted by a madam who serves him a drink. He settles into his chair as a dancer entertains him via an explicit bondage-influenced burlesque routine. The camera lingers on the dancer, while rockabilly music blares and the politician is invited to participate in the routine. As he handles the rope like a noose around the dancer’s neck, he starts to feel woozy and passes out. The camera fades to black, returning to show the dancer and the madam leaning over the politician. They proceed to violate him in a most-unexpected way, which culminates in a vicious, gory scene when the man later wakes.
In the interview below, Izzy Lee describes her anger and frustration hearing Akin’s statement, and how quickly LEGITIMATE came together in response. It’s a brash, bold statement by a filmmaker with something to say, and Lee handles the transition from the bleak, erotically-charged dance sequence to the horror movie nightmare that follows with surprising confidence for a comparatively inexperienced director. An extremely worthwhile project, and one I wish Todd Akin was strapped down – CLOCKWORK ORANGE style – and forced to watch on repeat.
Lee was kind enough to talk with me about the origins of LEGITIMATE, and what she’s been working on since its filming.
Sweetback (SB): What I love most about LEGITIMATE is that it comes from a place of very sincere – and powerful – anger. The film begins with the controversial (and idiotic) statement from Rep. Todd Akin that women have the ability to “shut down” their reproductive system during a “legitimate” rape. Do you remember your thoughts when you heard Akin’s statement for the first time?
Izzy Lee (IL): I was utterly speechless and so enraged that I developed insomnia. I mean, hey, I’d LOVE to have magical fucking powers that develop in the face of danger like a bulletproof uterus with teeth, fire-breathing abilities, or a goddamn invisibility cloak, wouldn’t you? Sadly, his bullshit isn’t based in reality, and I’ll have no awesome super powers. It was only recently that I calmed down enough to research his ridiculous claim, and it seems that he was talking about the very un-scientific “facts” that in some cases, women’s bodies will stop menstruating in extreme stress. You know what? This was part of the atrocities the fucking Nazis committed in the name of “research” during WWII. I sound like a conspiracy theorist even discussing this. It’s absolutely insane.
SB: You didn’t take the idiocy sitting down: You responded to it via a short film. Did the concept for LEGITIMATE come quickly, or did it gestate slowly while folks in Washington continued to debate things they – apparently – know nothing about?
IL: Very quickly. The script was part of a trifecta of events that influenced me in September 2012. The first was Aiken’s statement, which pissed me off so much that I couldn’t sleep. As a writer for Diabolique magazine (under a different name), I interviewed actress/director Shannon Lark for a piece on the Viscera Organization, which is sadly no longer around. They worked for years to promote female horror, sci-fi, and fantasy films. I found her smart and enchanting. Before speaking with her and meeting the other men and women of Viscera, I hadn’t had a single thought about becoming a filmmaker, but rather, had focused on programming films for festivals and writing about them. I decided to join Viscera and became the marketing director there for a time. The last piece was the influence for LEGITIMATE was Karin Webb, whom I discuss below.
SB: Let’s talk about your background a little bit. You attended the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Was the idea to always focus on film-making? Have you always been passionate about genre film-making in particular?
IL: Nope. I got a BFA in illustration and did a whole lot of nothing with that. I rebelled against art school, which made me hate what I did, and became more of an abstract painter instead. I was also able to sort of channel a bit of creativity into programming and curating films for festivals like Boston Underground and the Boston Sci-Fi Fest. I was always addicted to horror film ever since I was a wee child, however. I still can’t get enough.
SB: How supportive have you found the New England horror scene? As a woman making films about things that directly affect you, have you met much resistance from other directors?
IL: Well, from what I’ve seen, it’s small but connected, and in my opinion, horror people are the most generous, kind people I’ve met. I’ve had a lot of support in the horror scene from both men and women. If anyone acts shitty, you simply don’t hang around them. There’s no point unless you’re a masochist.
I’ve found the New England scene supportive, but the problem in this part of the region is actually getting people to attend events. There is a lot of culture here, so people become complacent because there’s a lot of shows, gallery openings, readings, and screenings to choose from. And there’s also the weather, which can deter a lot of people, particularly from November through April.
SB: The piece might not work without the rather incredible burlesque bondage routine at its core. How difficult was it to choreograph something that was appropriately sexy, but still struck the right note of menace?
IL: That was borne exclusively from the tasty goodness of Karin Webb’s saucy little brain. She was the actress and dancer that performed that in the film. I saw her perform that live, in a Mexican restaurant here in Boston, strangely enough, and that was the last piece of the puzzle that formed the film. I just hired her and let her perform her magic, which I played up with camera angles, no dialogue, and Bava-inspired lighting.
She’s currently on tour as a puppeteer, which is one of her many skills, but when she’s home, she’s often performing some kind of thought-provoking act, which is also highly erotic. I love her. I had her play a gender-bending, robot bandit in a no-budget fake trailer for a local art house’s annual competition. Watch at your own hazard here: http://vimeo.com/86125822
SB: How long did it take to film LEGITIMATE? Did anyone involved balk at the subject matter, or was everyone on board from the beginning?
IL: It took less than 24 hours to film. (Pre- and post-production took quite a bit longer, but from the first draft to the final cut, it was about six months.) We shot one scene overnight at the Somerville Theatre overnight, and the other the next afternoon at a Victorian-era firehouse in Dorcester called Torrent Engine 18.
Not one person. Everyone was happy to be involved and rather liked the subversive subject matter. Of course, I live in Massachusetts, commonly referred to as the bluest of the blue states. However, I think it’s safe to say that most of the sane population thinks that Aiken was out of his mind to say what he said. And yet, people like this are in power and they’re vocal about their insane belief in myths like “legitimate rape” or whatever the extreme right is peddling about women’s contraceptive rights this week. It’s only gotten worse. I feel that as a society, there’s a certain force at work that is trying to make us regress to pre-1950s or even suffragette levels, which is why it’s important that we fight back with art and media.
At Q&As, audiences sometimes ask if I’ve sent a copy of LEGITIMATE to Aiken. I laugh and say no, because people who say and believe that kind of stuff, and therefore live in other forms of reality, are often dangerous. One might say the same about me, but I’m an artist. Any craziness I gestate is relieved by stories, filmmaking, and painting. I’m not a threat to society. Besides, I don’t need any government goons showing up at my door.
SB: For those wanting to check out LEGITIMATE, or check out your future work, what’s the best way to do so?
IL: It’s been screening off and on for the last year, but I’m restless. I always want to do more. It may screen in March at the Boston Underground Film Festival, but after that, I will probably put it online for all to see.
SB: What do you think about the state of women in horror as of 2014? I recently interviewed the directing pair Dpyx, who made waves in 2013 after writing a letter (available here: http://msinthebiz.com/2013/10/31/female-filmmakers-rockin-the-horror-world/) decrying the lack of opportunities for women in horror. Do you echo those thoughts?
IL: Well, that’s a real thing, and Viscera really opened my eyes to this. In some cases, particularly in other genres, I do see women getting passed over for films, even when they have far better experience than the male counterparts that end up hired for the production. This is more true in the broken Hollywood system than in truly independent film, but women still have a very long way to go to attaining ANY sort of equality in film production or even onscreen. (Another issue is the shitty behavior and trolling from individuals who don’t believe that women should work in anything other than romantic comedies or drama, Women in Horror Recognition Month should exist, but that’s a whole other problem.) Sorry, we’re not going to quietly do what you think we should or fill the roles only you think we should take. It’s 2014.
Take the story of action filmmaker Lexi Alexander and THE EXPENDABELLES. It’s unbelievable. Reportedly, she was Sly Stallone’s top (before he was talked out of it) choice to make the lady version of the action franchise, and she has the experience (PUNISHER: WAR ZONE) over the guy who got hired, who directed LEGALLY BLONDE and THE UGLY TRUTH! According to his IMDB page, he actually started his career by making a short film titled TITISIANA BOOBERINI. I am creative, but I cannot make this shit up. Apparently, this is the only film he made before he was given the major production that was LEGALLY BLONDE. I have to close my eyes and breathe deeply when I see something so extremely sexist. God help me.
Here’s the plot for TITISIANA BOOBERINI.
Titsiana works at a suburban supermarket and is ridiculed by her fellow ‘Check-out’ girls for her slightly hirsute upper lip. She finds a new confidence and acceptance when she discovers a hair removal treatment.
Wanna see it? I don’t.
This is a well-written article by a man who gets it.
At any rate, in horror and in my personal experience, which is scant so far, I’ve had a lot of support, particularly from men. And I LOVE them. I want to collect them all to be my friends. I LOVE LOVE LOVE smart men and women who just want to see good films, and different points of view other than the same old shit rehashed again and again from white-guy-only movies. We deserve better. Hollywood is so boring. Do you want to see HELLRAISER, POLTERGEIST, or PET SEMATARY (one of the major horror films I can think of that was directed by a woman, Mary Lambert) remade? What’s the point?
SB: Anything else to promote? What should we expect next from Izzy Lee?
IL: I can barely keep up with myself at this point! Last summer, I produced and played one of the killers in Skip Shea’s award-winning film AVE MARIE, which has screened at several festivals around the world and is still making the rounds. I made a festival bumper that never played that I may turn into a very short film called TITTY CANCEROUS, believe it or not. I was just an AD and actor in a music video currently in post for the song “Ugly” by the band Matalon, which has an insane cast as well as effects by Rob Fitz, who directed and did FX for ALMOST HUMAN. I’m also in the last stages of post production on PICKET, a short film I directed, wrote, and produced about revenge taken on a religious cult, supernatural-style. Film collaborations with filmmakers and friends Maude Michaud (psycho-sexual neo-giallo), Skip Shea (cannibal farmhouse), and Boston screenwriter Chris Hallock (horror comedy for an untitled New England horror anthology), and film programmer Mike Snoonian (horror comedy), as well as the screenplay for my first untitled feature film are all future projects. I may also be a unit director for an upcoming reality show that finds undiscovered bands and musicians this summer.
SB: Finally.. What advice would you give to young or inexperienced directors looking to tackle their first project?
IL: If you want to make a film, do it. JUST DO IT; don’t be the person that spends all the time in the world talking up your project but never producing it. Most importantly, do NOT let anyone, no matter who they are or how well-intentioned they may seem, make you give up. Persistence is half the battle. Go to film festivals regularly and make lots of friends and contacts. The people that attend these festivals may end up becoming influential in your career or potential collaborators.
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