Hilary Swank won the Best Actress Oscar for Boys Don’t Cry, but behind the showbiz accolade is director KIMBERLY PEIRCE's five- year investigation to get to the heart of the film, a true crime. Words: Miles Fielder
Here is a true crime story: On Christmas [Eve 1993. in a farmhouse just outside of Falls City. Nebraska. two ex—cons. John l.otter and Thomas Nissen, murdered at young man named Brandon Teena. Earlier. Lotter and Nissen had raped Teena. Before that. the three of them were friends. Teena had come to Falls City from Lincoln. 75 miles away. and immediately became popular with the local youths. Charismatic. physically attractive and mysterious. Teena befriended men and charmed women. in particular Lana Tisdel. a close friend of Lotter. But Teena was a woman (real name: Teena Brandon) and when Lotter and Nissen found out they committed the crimes for which they were eventually tried. Those are the facts. but they don’t really tell the story of the life and death of Brandon Teena/Teena Brandon.
For Kimberly Peirce. the director and co-writer of
Boys Don ’I Cry. the truth is out there. but she didn't find the material for her feature film debut in sensational news stories. Instead. she went to the heart of the country to meet the people that knew Teena and then told the story through drama.
‘A lot of the coverage was pretty sensational.‘ says Peirce. who refers to Teena as male. ‘But that was by nature. which was newspapers could write about Brandon Teena but in the end they were talking about the spectacle of a girl who passed as a boy. Unless you intimately understood that subject. you weren‘t going to humanise it. The same thing about the violence: it may be gratuitous. To continue talking about violence without getting into any deeper emotional awareness has the potential to anaesthetise your audience. So what a movie can do is bring Brandon to life. get underneath his skin. and it‘ll help the audience to morally judge someone like this.‘
Peirce co-wrote (with Andy Bienen) the script for Boys Don't Cry as her graduate film thesis at Columbia University. The project began life as a story about a female Civil War spy who posed as a man. But when Peirce read about Brandon Teena's story (in
'. . . getting all the details of their lives and this event to absorb emotionally. I like to think of that process as tl’llth.’ Kimberly Peirce
‘What a movie can do is bring Brandon to life, get underneath his skin’
New York's Village Wire) she spent the next five years researching the events leading up to the murder.
‘I guess you could say the research was pretty diflicult.‘ says Peirce. ‘ln July of 199-1 I went back to Falls City. I went to Tom's murder trial and watched him and John and Lana. I went to the farmhouse where Brandon was executed and then retraced Brandon‘s footsteps. 1 got to meet Lana and ask her when she knew Brandon was a girl. |l.ana's answer was a contradictory mix of lies and honesty. denials and admissions] I got to ask the real people the emotional questions and begin to unfold what the relationships were like. So the research was two—fold: one was getting all the details of their lives and this event. and two was to absorb it emotionally. I like to think of that process as truth.‘
Peirce speaks with real conviction. like an artist on a mission; that’s not far from the truth. 'By telling a story what you are doing is making myths.‘ she says. ‘I think that myth and storytelling has a really crucial role in society. A storyteller takes something that is confusing and scary. and lives with it and guides the audience through the emotions.‘
Pcirce‘s version of the Brandon Teena story is emotional but never sensational. and as its reception at the ()scars and in the conservative mid-west (they love Brandon) has proved. it‘s all the better for it.
Boys Don’t Cry opens Fri 21 Apr. See review.
Lights, camera, action . . . SCOTLAND'S ONGOING HOUSING crisis is illustrated in Shelter Scotland's photography exhibition in the Filmhouse Cafe Bar, the opening of which coincides with a one-off screening of Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher on Tuesday 25 April. Congratulations to Ramsay, who won the Newcomer in British Film award at last Sunday's BAFTA ceremony. Congrats also to Edinburgh College of Art grad Adrian McDowall for his BAFTA winning short film, Who’s My Favourite Girl (see Frontlines). DAVID LYNCH DiDN'T on any Oscars tor The Straight Storyta51itt)tiglt they were well-deserved) A far greater come *8 American televison network. ABC's abandonment ot' ins p-iot fit"; Warhol/and Drive (It was deemed too woim: -— vep, that :or‘mervative o'd (,itesv‘tit., not ieast because Lyncn :3 il‘- no way a prolaivc filmmaker Goon news the: teat l'enc'h film giant UGC "my bit). 11;) ’ivlti/lic)r"."c}/7d for Eu'opeaii cinema release, '7‘- which case Lynch vxoezd shoot a rice. ending. OSCAR STATUETTE SECURED, Girl. Interrupted star Angelina Jolie has signed on the dotted line to play Lara Croft in the longtime-in-development Tomb Raider movie. The most popular computer game character, Croft was also voted 'Sexiest Woman of the Year' in Details magazine, a piece of publicity which blurs the virtual/reality line. And that line continues to be blurred here in Scotland, home of cyber pop star T—Babe and Ananova, who’s being touted as the world’s first web newscaster. See her go ’live' at Ananova.com FROM COMPUTE R CHARM '1? R8 to comic boox characters; Ghost ll/ori'l Daniel Clowes' strlo from M ritiarter'y (.ilt comzc, Elgltlbdllr .le cerrte tr. tine big SCreen cou'tesy of ierrt ficif. ngoff prevtotisiy (l'FEPLli‘Cl (rural), t'r disturbing and brilliant documentary dDO‘o'. ti‘e 605/703 most unwanted; or aerground comix artist, Robert Crtgn‘n
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