It’s difficult to compare Framing Agnes with other works especially since its director Chase Joynt’s other work is obscure in comparison. Nonetheless, this newer work is a feature length version of his short with the same name that came out three years ago. It’s supposed main subject is Agnes, the pseudonym of a transwoman who lived in Los Angeles during the 1950s. She fit the requirements for surgery only because she made herself fit those requirements. After that surgery she was one of the case subjects of a UCLA group. The group studied trans people of different shapes and skin tones. The study is basically interviews to pick these gender non-conforming peoples’ brain within the parameters of academia. Joynt’s idea then involves reframing those interviews as ones that viewers would see on a talk show. In between those segments both Joynt and the actors break character, questioning the text.
Trans directors and filmmakers have made both good and bad films. And it is a necessary to have a preamble whenever a critic who is also a trans ally joins a chorus. This chorus lamentsa bad film that a trans person made. It’s understandable to feel Joynt’s frustration, a frustration that he and the actors and critics have about Agnes since a case file full of interviews is not enough. We can’t paint a historical picture of someone who only appeared on written record for a few years if not less. The same goes for Framing Agnes‘ other subjects. In fairness, this is one of the few documentaries with an unconventional approach. One engendering conversations as to what went wrong here. For now, we can settle on how a feature length isn’t the right format for these stories. Even podcasts or anthology shorts would give these subjects better flesh.
Watch Framing Agnes as part of Hot Docs.
- Release Date: 5/1/2022