Gender II

film 2 of 4

Gap-Toothed Women

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 1, 2015

Speaking generally this project is about as important a project as film, or documentary, or whatever, has ever taken on. In fact this project might be carrying out documentary’s fundamental raison d’etre, its greatest and most consistent contribution. Look closely and sympathetically at the people that are usually invisible. Attend to the people that are usually ignored. The result is that they are invisible no more. The voiceless obtain a voice, which then speaks to us, the result being that we get to listen and expand. Horton Hears the Who. There’s no denying how essential this process is. The way that director Les Blank approaches it is pretty standard, and quite properly. You put what’s usually marginal in the very centre of your frame, or attention, and you treat it as if it belonged there. Before long, it appears to do just that.

This is all good. So is this film, with limits.  As you guessed from the title, it’s about women with gaps in their front teeth. You can’t blame anyone, but it does feel to me that some of them do seem to protest too much. Lauren Hutton is a beautiful and famous gap-toothed woman, but her endorsement feels strained and unnatural, like the objectifying culture in which she had to operate, and in which she actually thrived. That’s great, but in this context this key introductory portion comes off just a little bit like or as the language of the oppressor. Plus which, who’s kidding whom? It’s super-model Lauren Hutton, with that small gap in her teeth! What help is that to the rest of us?

That’s one kind of protesting-too-much. (And I’m pleased to take calls about how that wasn’t stated very nicely, or sensitively, or nicely. Fair enough! Making a point, though.) Another is in a marked and very poignant careening that you can mark in some of this film’s subjects. The problem goes far beyond the confines of this particular piece of course. Alternatively attractive people who don’t have much of a public face or voice would, do describe just this kind of wavering trajectory between sullen melancholy and hysterical self-justification. A couple of their spokeswomen, appearing here in this film, are so cheerful and over-eager that it both bugs you and touches your heart.

You should almost never quibble, though, about stuff like that. Certainly not here. There’s a woman who didn’t like herself, physically speaking. She also didn’t like her job, and there was no reason that she should have. She realized that this combination was about to consign her to a lifetime of unfulfillment and solitude. So she taught herself a cool skill (cartooning), got more interesting work, and was gratified to find that the boyfriend suddenly materialized. Who likes the gap in her teeth! That is a really good story.

We conclude with a lady who is recovering from cancer. This threatens to overload the discussion, but it doesn’t, quite. Still, Gap-Toothed Women isn’t quite the warmly good-timin’ kind of film that Blank usually shared with us all. He had an agenda with this one, or at least a bit of an agenda. But he’s not really like that, usually. Mostly, he likes and talks to people, then puts them into his movies. Like we were saying at the start: the fundamental raison d’etre of the documentary film!