Tell Me: Our Review of ‘Betty Tells Her Story’

Posted in Movies, The Criterion Channel, What's Streaming? by - January 26, 2021
Tell Me: Our Review of ‘Betty Tells Her Story’

Another day, another opportunity to raid the Criterion Channel. This streaming service has everything, especially for those of us who want to watch something short and sweet. Well, bittersweet. They have a section on women filmmakers that it calls Tell Me:  Women Filmmakers, Women’s Stories. Guest programmer Nellie Killian curates shorts and feature length films that probably got their first run in major city art house cinemas. The program “celebrates female filmmakers who took the simple, radical step of allowing women space and time to talk about their lives”. One of those shorts is Liane Brandon’s Betty Tells Her Story, about a larger middle-aged woman, Betty. She tells the story about getting the best dress she ever wore. One that she hopes to show off for her friendly neighbors before going to the Governor’s Ball.

This short has two parts, but before we get to that, I must point out that I re-watch everything I write or try to write about. I let the film play during the writing process. I watched this for the first time knowing what happens to the dress. Although the spoiler statute of limitations for that has long gone, viewers are always better off not knowing any. Knowing softens any emotional blow that the twist might make its viewers feel. Watching this for a second time, however, shows how Brandon lets Betty talk long enough to delay that blow and make her film effective. And the intertitle between the first part and the second explains that she’s letting Betty retell the story. The intertitle says that she waits for a while between both parts.

The camera movements are the same for both parts, starting with a medium shot of Betty before closing on her. But Brandon also shows that any attempt towards repetition is fruitless. That the person within the film has more power than the director, or that she yields that power for better results. Betty gets to the twist faster the second time around. She also stares into the camera more to show that despite how insignificant her anecdote might be, the pain she experienced during it is still valid. She talks about frantically searching her trunk for a dress that magically disappeared. And she didn’t need to mime those movements to show viewers the urgency of her emotions. This short is only twenty minutes, but it says more about beauty than most things ever can.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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