Letter to Jane: Notes for A Hypothetical Profile

I would begin my piece this way: By describing Godard and Gorin’s “Letter to Jane.”

In 1972, after filming “Tout Va Bien” (Everything’s All Right) starring Jane Fonda and Yves Montand, the brilliant French flmmaker, Jean-Luc Godard, and his then frequent collaborator, Jean-Pierre Gorin, came across a photograph of Jane Fonda in a magazine. It showed the activst actress in conversation wth some North Vietnamese. Annoyed by Fonda’s celebrity and her politics, the two filmmakers–who more or less constituted Dziga Vertov, the filmmaking collective named after the Russian avant-garde filmmaker–produced a movie they originally titled, “Inquiry Into A Still.” The “action” of the hour long “Letter to Jane,” ends up being Godard and Gorin’s voice over narration, wherein the unseen authors produce a scathing film-essay about the nature of celebrity, liberalism, and looking, while indirectly revealing their own complicated, and sometimes thwarted, view of women.

I would go to see Gorin. I would go to see Gorin and talk about Jane.

I would go to Jane’s house. I would bring photographs with me. I would say: Look at yourself in these photographs–these various Janes. Who do you see? Do you see the paradigm? Of Angelina Jolie-Celebrity-Saviour?

I would put the photographs on the bed. A museum of Jane.

I would say: Jane, colored people loved you most not when you were saving them but when you played the girl in “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They.” And when you ran the con on Donald Sutherland in “Klute.” These were women they could understand.

I would put it to her: Jane, when I saw you lick your glasses and then further clean them on your sleeve, Jane, I saw this: a wide streak of performer vivacity.

I would want to say, Jane: Your time in Vietnam was of service, Jane, but perhaps showing us female oppression and confusion and literal prostitution in “Klute,” told us more.

I would say: Jane, I don’t do this kind of writing anymore. It’s been the end of this kind of writing for me, Jane, but no one can give up talking to you, Jane, especially if you are an American because it is too much the story of America: your strident off-putting voice, mimicing of various men you’ve adored, not knowing yourself, and saying, in the end, that their many not be such a thing–a self.

For years, I would say to Jane, for years, I thought I was Jane in “Julia,” until it turned out I was really Vanessa Redgrave, holding that friend’s hand across the table, calling them “My beloved friend.” Beat. “Now go!”

I would say: Jane, I watched you worry for everyone’s comfort backstage, and your need to organize, and your need to connect, and your need to exercise your good manners. I recognized all of those things, Jane.

I would ask Jane about her hands–famously, Henry Fonda’s hands. What was striking when I met your children, Jane: They have your hands, which is to say your father’s.

At the after-party for your play, Jane, you complimented one of the producers by saying he was one reason your father loved the theatre so. But do you love the theatre, Jane? Do you?

Could I say, Jane, the best story I heard about you recently was a road trip you took with Madeline Sherwood when you were both at the Actor’s Studio. And how, on that road trip, Madeline Sherwood, who played Mother Superior on “The Flying Nun,” taught you about women’s bodies. Did she teach you about your own?

I would show Jane these photographs of herself backstage. I would say: Jane, I took these photographs of you, but I took them with the eye of someone else. What do you see? Jane, it hurts when you smile. I see you as the twelve year old girl you must have been, trying to smile through the news that your mother had slit her throat for want of love from your very cold father. You speak of him still.

Jane, we have too much in common.

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