I don’t entirely understand this new wave of Miranda July enthusiasm. She does have a film coming out this weekend, but that alone can’t fully explain this rush of good will for the director/writer/actress/performance artist. The New York Times Magazine just gave her quite the feature and even Michael Idov has changed his mind after previously dissing her in song. Not that I’m bitter, but I’m not the biggest fan of “The Future” and as it turns out July’s early short films are mildly stress inducing. So to remind everyone of why Idov took issue with this multi-talented performer in the first place, here’s a look at “Nest of Tens.”
Released in 2000, this 27-minute film is made up of four alternating stories that deal with things like control, sexuality, and childhood. July herself performs as a mildly awkward businesswoman stuck in an airport. To put it more accurately she’s playing her own inexpressive persona blended with what seems to be her perception of a typical businesswoman: a carefully put together red suit with lots of empty managerial talking on the phone. This is a short film built from ideas of character types rather than actual characters.
In the airport narrative and throughout the film July uses children to examine the behavior of adults and our understanding of sex, power and youth. A boy collects cleaning supplies around the house and applies them to a nude baby girl, presumably his little sister. With the infant emblematic of the very absence of control, this vignette seems like a fairly standard representation of elemental male anxieties about women. There is so little nuance and character that one wonders why July would leave the segment so unencumbered by thought or thematic complexity.
Another child-oriented segment is about a teenager who has brought a sleazy older man along to a babysitting job. The sexuality is blatant and the entire scene is sordid, seemingly dripping with what one can only assume is July’s perception of Jerry Springer-fied Middle America. Things get increasingly explicit, in the bluntly sexual manner that characterizes much of July’s other film work. This intergenerational element that crops up in “The Future” and saturates “Me and You and Everyone We Know” is very present in “Nest of Tens,” as the babysitter’s grubby liaison confronts her young charge with the raw realities of adult life and sex.
Yet July turns it around as well. In the segment she acts in herself she meets another young girl who seems to be more comfortable with the female anatomy than the older and stiffer businesswoman. The kid does pique July’s curiosity, but in the end it becomes yet another awkward encounter between generations. It leaves us with ambiguity and very little in the way of coherent synthesis, which sums up the whole short.