Film At The Top, part 3 of Peter Josyph’s serial film, No Standing In St. Petersburg, presents us with some extremely complex issues dealing with the ramifications of being an artist, and in particular the difficulties that women artists experience.
This serial film began in ARTCAST Season 1 with part 1, St. Petersburg, a film within a film. Now in part 3, the actress Elena, who played the young woman in part 1, is being interviewed about her work on this independent film and her experiences with the director, played by Kevin Larkin. The journalist, played by Jon Baer, is also going to photograph her for his article.
Actresses who play leading characters in films are often stunningly beautiful. Producers and directors are looking for incredible faces that the camera will love. Who doesn’t enjoy watching Penelope Cruz, for example, her beautiful face, her tall graceful figure, her voice. And yet Penelope Cruz is also an accomplished actress. The muse of Pedro Almodovar, she wanted to be in his films because of their incredible impact as artistic statements. So is the actress an artist first and then a beautiful woman. Or is the beauty more the focus and the craft and the essence of the woman secondary.
In Film At The Top we have an actress who is serious about acting, serious about theatre. She also displays a wisdom about the potential fleeting status of the actress as the director’s muse. She understands it can be partly based on a fantasy, on an idealized vision of what she represents, and since fantasies are hard to sustain over time, she is realistic about this. Again throughout her interview, she returns us to her main focus: the work, the art, the craft of what she is doing.
In this film we see the 3 male characters represented exhibit a different degree of perhaps — and I say perhaps because as in life, nothing is completely clear – marginalizing her identity as an artist. The journalist recognizes her talent, but that is conflated with his attraction to her. The director is discussed as an eccentric who is also taken with her, but its unclear the degree to which this is personal or professional, or if his unusual behavior stems from his own journey as an artist and his own questions of self-worth. Her boyfriend is quite clearly the most extreme in his perception of her role as an artist. Her exchange with him near the end is for me the most poignant and emotional part of the film as it cuts right to the core of how people’s perceptions can compromise one’s self-worth.
At the very end, we see and hear from the mysterious director Peter, who is really only alluded thus far. This sequence is cut between and over the outgoing credits. It is also another emotional peak in the film for me. I watch Film At The Top with a feminist take, being a woman and an artist myself. I feel for Elena trying to hold onto her center as she deals with how these three men perceive her. But then I ponder at the end that one person’s seemingly objectification could also indeed be their salvation. Like Cassavetes explained so aptly, why should film be clear when life isn’t.