Taking a journey outside web of Youtube videos
MIRANDA July takes navel gazing to exhaustive extremes in her new work of nonfiction, It Chooses You. But some navels merit closer examination than others and July’s might be one of them. The subject of this book is its author’s struggle to finish a screenplay — not exactly a topic crying out for the public’s urgent and earnest attention — but July is so genuinely odd and her logic so delightfully lateral, that following her creative processes is surprisingly engrossing.
July is a writer, filmmaker and perform- ance artist and a polarising figure in her native US. Best known for writing, directing and starring in the 2005 independent film hit Me and You and Everyone We Know, July also won the Frank O’connor Short Story Award in 2007 for No One Belongs Here More Than You. Detractors find July’s work twee and indulgent; fans find it funny and inventive. It Chooses You is all of those things and entirely consistent with July’s idiosyncratic ouvre.
The opening chapter finds July in the summer of 2009, close to completing the screenplay for her second feature film, The Future, but suddenly mired in the endless distractions of the internet. As she squanders her days watching Youtube videos and Googling her own name, July, 35, feels ‘‘ jealous of older writers who had gotten more of a toehold on their discipline before the web came’’.
Rescue comes in the unlikely form of the Pennysaver, a junk mail booklet of classified ads delivered free weekly to every household in Los Angeles. Drawn to the assortment of objects on sale and the stories and strangers behind them, July embarks on a quest to visit and interview any Pennysaver advertiser who will agree to talk to her— not only about the item for sale but also about their life story. Exactly how July believes this mission will help her complete her screenplay is not clear; it’s an intuitive, superstitious quest.
Sections of the book read like a travel- ogue, with July venturing to parts of the city she’d never otherwise visit and meeting 13 people she’d never otherwise meet. She meets strangers and examines their tadpoles, browses their pornography collections and inspects their hairdryers. Some of the interviewees have extraordinary and affecting stories to tell and July helps them along with disarming humour and sensitivity.
July is not, however, just travelling around Los Angeles, she’s also travelling outside the internet.
The Pennysaver is an endangered relic of the pre-internet world and July’s quest to interview the people who still use it, seems only partly for posterity. It’s also a reflection of her growing anxieties about the extent to which the online world is eroding her perspective as well as her time.
‘‘ People nearby who had no web presence were becoming almost cartoonlike,’’ she writes, ‘‘ as if they were missing a dimension.’’ At the same time, July is wrestling with an age-old creative problem: how to create authentic fictional characters when the complexity of real human beings makes them stubbornly resistant to representation.
July believes if she can resist the impulse