A Biography of Lilith

16mm Color Sound 1997 35min.

In a lively mix of off-beat narrative, collage and memoir, A Biography of Lilith updates the creation myth by telling the story of the first woman and for some, the first feminist. Lilith's betrayal by Adam in Eden and subsequent vow of revenge is recast as a modern tale with present-day Lilith (Cherie Wallace) musing on a life that has included giving up a baby for adoption and work as a bar dancer. Interweaving mystical texts from Jewish folklore with interviews, music and poetry, filmmaker Lynne Sachs reclaims this cabalistic parable to frame her own role as a mother. A witty contemplation of Judaism and patriarchal history, this evocative film offers both a feminist view of ancient myths and an investigation of their cultural persistence.

With poetry, I evoke the moment when Lilith first speaks to Adam:

Just when I am on my way to becoming, My eyes open and you are there. Is Eden large enough for the two of us? Wherever I turn, There are branches pulling at my hair. Earth between my toes and under my tongue. I slither and sometimes I use my wings.

Let's slither together.

Earth becomes dirt becomes dirty. Bent knees turn into corners. Am I not right for this world? Before you, I did not know I was I. Now this I is part of my unbecoming.

The story unravels in fits and starts, like a secret trying to reveal itself. Remnants of the original dramatic characters - - God (a man/woman duo), Adam, Lilith, Eve and three Angels -- shimmer periodically across the screen as optically printed figures. I use grainy black and white images of a scorched landscape, falling jelly fish, and an upside-down pregnant woman to depict the crumbling of order and sense. All give the surface a stark, mysterious texture. As part of a funky mixed-media lecture I do with the film, I present footage from a 1950's eponymous film starring Jean Seberg, an old documentary on spiders, images of my daughter's sonogram before her birth and a comic strip featuring Lilith as an evil demoness. Personal thoughts on being with my own newborn child are also integrated into the overall tale. You are in your sleep. A smile comes over your face. Lips flutter, flutter, quiver, turn up to touch cheek. I know, am told, have heard -- that In the dark, under your cradle, There in the empty space of dust between Lies Lilith, My fear and your danger. She is a cat, a snake, the flame of a burning sword, A feather that tickles at the nape of your neck, Broken glass and nakedness.

I touch your nose and the spell is broken. For a moment your head swishes between ears. To say no, to resist and then to sink into Nothing more than a pillow.

Partially supported by a film finishing fund grant from the Experimental Television Center, as a project of the New York State Council on the Arts.

Screenings: Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CA; San Francisco Cinematheque; Women in the Director's Chair Film Festival, Chicago; Ann Arbor Film Festival; Onion City Film Festival, Chicago; Humboldt Film Festival; Big Muddy Film Festival; Anthology Film Archive, NY; Fordham University; University of Maryland; California College of Arts and Crafts; Maryland Institute of Art; University of South Florida; Millennium Film Workshop, NY; Madcat Women's Film Festival.

"Sachs' art for fusing documentary and experimental narrative is unquestionably enormous. In this new film, her combination of an interview with a friend, the myth of Lilith and beauteous images of things like jelly fish (which float like iridescent breasts on screen) culminates in stunning cinema." Molly Hankwitz, Art Papers

"Lynne Sachs' A Biography of Lilith is a beautifully realized melding of history, mythology, image, and sound that makes us rethink our understanding of a powerful, complex, and significant female figure." Caren Kaplan, Associate Professor, Women's Studies, University of California, Berkeley

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