Girl fight: The movie
By STEPHANIE GARCIA
Published November 5, 2009 in issue 0844 of the Hook
For local director Brian Wimer, Charlottesville's culture provides just the right spark of cinematic inspiration-- but it's not the clean-cut, organic suburban scene he's interested in. Rather, it's the raw, avant-garde "freak show" quality of underground Charlottesville that draws the cult director and his camera to organizations like the Charlottesville Lady Arm Wrestlers.
"What wouldn't attract one to CLAW?" Wimer posits. "Pregnant brides, dominatrixes, lesbian homewreckers-- it's all the ingredients for fun."
CLAW brings together upstanding, somewhat-radical women to participate in evenings of theatrical competition to raise money for women-initiated charities and make "absurdist political and social commentary," according to Wimer.
But what it really does is allow a few rough 'n tumble gals to let their hair down and display their arm-wrestling prowess to a willing and wild crowd. It's the ultimate underground spectacle-- and all Wimer had to do was be in the right place at the right time.
"I usually get word of bizarre things happening in town," Wimer says. "I just showed up and asked if I could film. It was a pain to have such a big camera in a small venue though-- I got heckled by people at one of the events for blocking the view."
The ladies of CLAW draw on somewhat antiquated female personas-- the "Bridezilla," the "Homewrecker," the "School Marm"-- allowing each match-up to be a crusade against stereotypes (one participant recently competed in a burka). As each wrestler inevitably brings her own story to the fight, subsequently outdoing one another with costumes, props, and co-characters, the plot is already laid out for Wimer to follow.
In a two-part documentary (only the first, a mere 27 minutes, will be screened at the Festival), Wimer follows a July 2008 match between the Bridezilla and the Homewrecker. Beyond interviewing participants and spectators and adding in a soundtrack by local electro-pop ensemble Straight Punch to the Crotch, the filmmaker just had to sit back and enjoy the spectacle.
"You never know what's going to happen with a documentary-- it just happens that in this one, everything happens," he says. "Once they put on the wig and makeup and transform themselves, it allows them to scream, holler, be uncontrollable, thrashing and wailing."
No stranger to spectacle (recent films include Eat Me: The Musical, a zombie musical starring local absurdist rockers The Falsies, and Mantra, an award-winning Buddhist horror flick), Wimer continues to seek out the unconventional forms of entertainment in the local community. After screening CLAW, he'll turn his camera to the Charlottesville Derby Dames.
"Why do women do roller derby? Because it provides the antidote to the banality of living in the suburbs without having to leave the suburbs," Wimer explains. "That's why we love freak shows; they provide what life doesn't. That's what makes this town liveable, stuff like CLAW-- if it were all pizza and Fridays After Five, I think you'd go mad."