Sexuality and Screenwriting – Erin Cressida Wilson on “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus”

Erin Cressida Wilson was a Professor of Playwriting in the Department of Theater and Dance at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She also is affiliated with the Department of Film and Media Studies at UC Santa Barbara. Wilson formerly was a professor at Brown University, and before that at Duke University.” [imdb bio.]

Diane ArbusThe following is from the article: Writer and subject coexist as Arbus, by Jay A. Fernandez, Los Angeles Times, Nov 8 2006; photo: Diane Arbus (1923-1971).

The birth of an artist

Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson says of her script for “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus”: “What I wanted to do was to make a portrait of her from my perspective as an artist. This is my interpretation of her birth as an artist.”

Lionel – more than meets the eye

Though Wilson used many basic facts culled from Patricia Bosworth’s “Diane Arbus: A Biography,” [the character of] Lionel was wholly invented. Afflicted by a rare condition that causes his body to be covered by hair, the charming former circus attraction is more than just a writer’s construct ripe with symbolism.

To Wilson, he contains the DNA of Arbus’ real-life inspirations — not just an amalgam of all her unusual subjects (transvestites, little people, so-called circus freaks), but also a representation of her lover and mentor Marvin Israel, a married painter who pushed and promoted her art.

“I wanted [Lionel] to be her imagination, herself, her muse,” Wilson says. “I wanted her to develop a relationship with the beast inside of her that haunts her. That was very much a part of Diane Arbus, the thrill of fear.”

Wilson and Arbus parallels

Erin Cressida WilsonAs an adventurous teen-ager, Wilson was an avid photographer very much influenced by Arbus, who killed herself in 1971.

In an uncanny parallel, when Wilson was 16 she was photographing some gay female friends as they were naked and decided to disrobe herself to more fully engage the artistic process.

“It wasn’t salacious,” she says. “It was naive – and sweet. I grew up in the world of ‘Last Tango in Paris,’ of ‘Hair.’ I grew up in a world that already housed [Arbus’] imagination.”

This episode mirrors Arbus’ own famous foray into a nudist colony in 1958 to photograph the residents.

“Fur” is bookended by the significance of this moment in the artist’s evolution.

“For Diane Arbus — and for myself — art was intimately connected with eroticism, with trespassing, with romantic relationships, with the Other,” Wilson says.

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Related page on the life and work of Diane Arbus.

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More quotes by Erin Cressida Wilson – screenwriter of “Secretary.”

“I think that sex is an exposure and a revealing of our wounds, our underbellies and our frailties. I think of sex as a very honest form of communication. And through it, we can see the core of a person.”

[, Summer 2002]

“The movie [“Secretary”]… can’t be compared to anything. It’s not an S&M film. I know that when she’s spanked, there’s often a laugh in the audience. It’s very funny. It’s also very sexy to me.

“A big part of the way I write is to combine humor with sex. It’s not salacious. It can be fun. “Secretary” doesn’t politicize the sexuality or the relationship. It doesn’t insist on taking sides.

“Also, it doesn’t seek to solve problems. The secretary does not seek to get over her masochism as if it were a deviant problem.

“She actually embraces it. It also turns cliches on their heads. Instead of her running to arrest him and screaming equal rights, she falls in love with him.

“And he in turn gets afraid. She owns her submissive quality. … I was brought up as a feminist. Maybe the movie represents a wave of feminism that hasn’t been named.”

[LA Times, Sep 27 2002]


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