Lisa Gornick of The Book of Gabrielle wears many different hats. She is an actor, writer, illustrator and a filmmaker – all within this one project. She has a conversation with Suryatapa Mukherjee about sexuality, creativity and regrets.
How did the idea come about for the film?
I wanted to express lesbian sexuality. In conjunction with that, Philip Roth had just written a book called The Humbling. I had always followed these Jewish American writers. He wrote a book about a lesbian that fancied an old man. It was actually made into a film. And it just irritated me so much! And I suppose I had been raised with Philip Roth in my home. My parents loved him! Well, he was this revered man. I also loved him. The thing was love-hate because he is this amazing writer. But he writes intensely about his ideas about women. There are ones that as a lesbian, I really identify with. So, there’s a weird love-hate with it. And I wanted to explore that. I had this character Gabrielle, played by me, and a Jewish older man. I would love to have seen that dialogue.
So, that character is real in a way – the older writer.
I wasn’t writing about Philip Roth because it ended up being a British man. I would love to have gotten a real New York Jewish man. But I got instead a version of it that’s quite English. In my fantasy I had someone like David Manners playing him. So, slightly sexy, I find those men. Are you straight, lesbian, whatever? It doesn’t matter. Or are you everything? What are you?
Yeah, everything. (Laughs)
(Laughs) Oh, yeah. That’s the new way of being, isn’t it? Everything. Do you think?
I guess people are being more open about it. I think before if you were ‘everything’, you would just pretend you’re straight because it’s easier. And now people kind of understand.
That is so true. Now, you see, that’s really interesting, yeah? I don’t know how old – are you in your 20s, you?
Oh, you see, I think I am like you. I’m older, obviously, much older than you babes. But I think I was like you and I got told off for being like that. I think I would have said I’m everything. When I was younger, I was saying “I’m a lesbian. I think I am. Ooh, ooh!” And my first film Do I Love You is all about “I think I am. I’m not sure if I am.” And I would say The Book of Gabrielle is slightly a follow-up to that. It’s about a woman who – maybe she is a man inside, maybe she is also a woman. But she wants to be with other women. But she is always thinking that she is a man. But she doesn’t like that man that she is. And then, she can’t help but be fascinated by a man. I can see that quite a few lesbians hold very much to their one identity: “That’s it; that’s what I am. Don’t want to be fluid” – in their thinking. They might not like the film. I would say I’m a lesbian that’s fluid in my thinking, just not in my practice. Ha! Just not in my ‘art’ of lesbianism. (Laughs)
(Laughs) So, what are all of the things you’re doing – there’s the film, the book signing and the live drawing?
Yes. I’ve made a book within the film, The Book of Gabrielle. And I have made a version of the book called How to Do It. What I was trying to do is make a sex guide book that was actually saying, “It’s okay, make mistakes.” It was actually a guide book for me when I’m feeling sad. And I was hoping it would be for other people too. I wanted to make a book that’s about sex but that’s also about just living life. So, it’s not like, “Hey, put the fingers in there, turn it around three times.” It’s not that kind of guide book. It’s more of a soulful sex guide book. So, I would like it if it was written by a lesbian – whatever lesbian I am – for anyone.
And then, I’m doing a live drawing show. What I am doing this time is called What The Fuck Is Lesbian Cinema? It will be about me exploring the whole thing of niche cinema, in this case, lesbian cinema. I know it sounds very serious but on the whole I tend to be quite comedic. In a way, it’s nice to break out of the finite aspect of the cinema and become very live. I like to draw the audience in and I like to face them. I love making films but of course, it’s a very different thing when it’s done. And also you can’t change it. And here, I can change it. Every performance has it’s own life. I think it’s lovely to be able to do both.
I was reading your other interviews. I picked up on this theme of how sometimes you wonder about all the other things you wanted to do. So, is there any alternative idea of life that you think would also make you happy?
It is a good question. I mean I am quite a self-reflective person. I have tried therapy. For me personally, it doesn’t work. I mean I have tried it so much and I just think “Enough, already.” I’m just going round and round in circles. I think in a way therapy made me feel more regretful about stuff – because they were just sitting there going, “Oh, really? Oh, alright.” (Laughs) Now, I’ve gone against therapy. Help!
I’m beginning to think it’s about acceptance of who I am. Yeah, there are parts of me that thought I could have left university and done a completely different thing. I could have gone down a route of, “Let’s earn money. Let’s buy a house.” For whatever reason, I chose a really funny different route. And all my friends have told me this when I’m in the depths of my despair about why I’m an unemployed lesbian filmmaker. Oh, oh, woe, woe! And they’re like, but you would have been a married straight woman with two kids and you would have been looking out the window also drinking and saying, “Why the fuck am I a married straight woman? Stupid husband. Sweet kids but irritating.” I feel I’m getting to the acceptance now. It’s taken me a while. So, I want to say that there is no better life for me.
That’s really interesting because when the subject of regret is explored in the media, it’s usually in the other way. It’s more like “I wish I was that artist. I wish I didn’t give in to conventions.”
Yeah, I wish I was there: Stepford wife, two little perfect children, trapped! Drinking gin and tonic in the morning. Yeah. Not any more! Scrub that. Tell everyone I don’t think that anymore.
The Book of Gabrielle is one of 10 feature films competing at this year’s Iris Prize.
Published on the Iris Prize magazine: https://issuu.com/irisfestival2017/docs/buzz_iris_guide_2017_online