Give Me Pity!

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Give Me Pity!
"It’s a wonderful experiment, and often very funny, but it is also, perhaps intentionally, exhausting." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

The phenomenon of celebrities who are famous just for being famous is one of those things which makes perfect sense to insiders and is a complete mystery to everyone else. It has become more common in the internet age, but it has its roots in US TV shows which have changed remarkably little between the 1950s and the 2020s. Give Me Pity!, one of a pair of contributions to the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival by writer/director Amanda Kramer, presents viewers with an imaginary take on one such show and allows it to flow, unhindered, to its logical extreme.

The star of this show is one Sissy Sinclair (a bravura performance by Sophie von Haselburg, who is not only in every scene but is often the only person present onscreen). We see her first in full Baby Jane get-up, with added angel wings and bridal veil, talking about how fans will know her signature look. Soon she’s dancing in silver sequins, singing brash but unremarkable tunes, and then engaging in pseudo-intimate monologues, talking about herself, treating the audience to every detail of her life. “I was born with beautiful skin but ugly hair and nails,” she declares, pitching the praise and sympathy at the same time. She strives to convey that she is one of use but, of course, much better. Why? Why because she’s famous!

The brass band plays. The spotlight sways. The pink set glows with artificial warmth, whilst conveying something inescapably uterine. in this coddled space, Sissy is enjoying her first TV special. She wants us to believe that it will be the first of many. She clearly hopes that, but the pressure is on, and gradually, cracks begin to appear. Reading through a bag of fan mail whose origins, if this is her big break, one must wondeer at, she finds insipid praise but also cruel misogyny, and one letter which is covered in blood. Although she seems to shoot a desperate glance offscreen, nobody intervenes. Soon her smile is back in place. The show must go on.

Boldly, Sissy attempts to own all of her experiences, to assume that state of unassailable confidence in which nobody can touch her, a star safe behind her own light. Not every thought which slips out takes her closer to her desired destination, however. Comments like “There’s something romantic about being a young widow” point to a real deterioration in her self awareness. As the show continues, she begins to hallucinate, less and less certain what is going on around her. Is she really on TV at all? With her mind beginning to disintegrate, her face joins in, and her private existential crisis, on public display, might be asking each of us what real substance lurks there beneath the façades we present to the world.

This is not an easy viewing experience. It’s a wonderful experiment, and often very funny, but it is also, perhaps intentionally, exhausting. Not every viewer will make it to the end. As Sissy’s ego is assailed by what might reasonably be described as monsters from the id, she is left without a reference point. The show exists only for its own sake. Life must go on.

Reviewed on: 02 Aug 2022
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Sissy St. Claire graces the small screen for her first ever television special, an evening full of music and laughter, glamour and entertainment. But Sissy's live event quickly begins to curdle into a psychedelic nightmare.

Director: Amanda Kramer

Writer: Amanda Kramer

Starring: Cricket Arrison, M Diesel, Reshma Gajjar, Tess Hewlett, Annie Kyle

Year: 2022

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: US


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