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Torrey Pines

Deply nostalgic, puerile and unusual stop-motion animation portrays the coming-of-age tale of a transgender girl - showing right now at the BFI London LGBT Film Festival

Sit back and rewind the tape manually to the early 1990s. When I say “manually” I do mean literally with yours hands: release the spool brake, stick your finger inside and rewind the VHS cassette back to a time of puerile nostalgia. Torrey Pines is indeed a handmade movie: the paper cutouts, the textures, the paint, the placement of the pieces and even the soundtrack. The director is also a singer and a guitarist, and he performs most of the songs in the movie. Live even. That’s right: the helmer and two supporting musicians played the soundtrack like at the cinema, in good old-fashioned silent era style.

Torrey Pines takes you back to Clyde Petersen’s youth (before he became transgender) in Seattle (US), particularly the feuds with her schizophrenic and chain-smoking mother, plus the realisation of her egodystonic gender identity (ie. that she was not satisfied with her female body and longed for a male one instead). The anguish, the dreams and the fantasies of this young woman are illustrated through child-like drawings with plush and sumptuous colours. Words are often replaced by allegories (such as the tigers on the image of the top, representing a wild and turbulent discussion). There are some graphic representation of her worst fears: such as giving birth and lactating.

Petersen has no qualms at representing his fears as a young girl

The sounds within the movie are also remarkable. In addition to the songs performed by the director and the supporting musicians, feelings are communicated through strange utterances (a boisterous “blergh” for disapproval, a buzzing “hmmm” for agreement, plus plenty of wailing and yodeling). The director clarified that the animator’s primal trick of “speaking through a saxophone” in order to distort the human voice was used abundantly throughout the film. Strange, squelching and even guttural sounds are pervasive but never invasive.

The film is not without flaws. At times, the animation becomes too convoluted and slips into clumsiness. Such is the case with a Whitney Houston concert where the director tried to portray all 700 crowdfunding contributors – a mammoth and borderline impossible task. Also, due to the laconic nature of the movie, it’s often difficult to determine exactly what’s happening. I would not have worked out that Petersen’s mother is schizophrenic had I not read the programme before the movie.

Despite being marketed as feature film, Torrey Pines is in reality a featurette with a duration of just 60 minutes. The film would benefit from a longer narrative, but considering the amount of time and effort it took to complete it, and that it was made at the director’s very own bedroom, I think we can forgive him for keeping it a little shorter than the average multimillionaire Hollywood flick.

Despite the flaws – normal teething problems for a budding helmer with a small budget and very little “studio” space – Torrey Pines is a major achievement. Firstly because LGBT topics are somewhat scarce in the world of animation. Secondly and most importantly, the film is a testament that cinema is a weapon for personal liberation – which fits in extremely well with DMovies‘ vision of cinema (click here in order to find out more).

Torrey Pines is showing right now at the BFI London LGBT Film Festival – click here for more information about the event. Plus watch the film trailer below:

By Petra von Kant - 18-03-2017

Petra von Kant is a filmmaker, critic and performance artist. She was born Manoel Almeida to Brazilian parents in 1971 in Bremen, Germany. Her parents were political refugees fleeing the military dict...

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