Yvonne Rainer’s 1996 film Murder and murder is the story of courtship, growing intimacy and small arguments in a middle aged lesbian relationship. There is only metaphorical treatment of murder in relation to visibility and illness. In one scene, where Doris and Mildred are together on a spring afternoon in a park, Rainer collages multiple instances of overhearing outlandish homophobic comments in public. The language gesture is exaggerated, so everywhere Doris and Mildred sit they overhear another discriminatory spurt until the scene ends with them overhearing another lesbian couple’s banter. There is an ear like a stethoscope in Rainer’s dialogues, a joy in confrontation resurfacing.
In a 1968 tribute to the writer Jill Johnston, originally published in the newspaper Culture Hero, Rainer reflects not only on her relationship to Johnston but on the relationship between confrontation and writing: “I get very mad at Jill when she repeats something I say in her column or when I find out she’s mad at me through reading the vv. She avoids direct communication. That’s her trouble, that’s my trouble, that’s everyone’s trouble. End sermon. Sorry Jo.”
Yvonne Rainer’s work, and her recent book simply titled Poems embody the straightforward. Her work is so precise and unafraid of itself that it emanates a wisdom or an “adventure in cliché” as Rainer herself describes her first film Lives of Performers. Her writing produces the even clarity of photographing in overcast light.
“The most outlandish event” of 1965 Rainer tells us in her 2006 memoir Feelings are Facts, was on a tour in London. It was sensationalized somehow that Rainer was a nude dancer just because she performed nude once in someone else’s dance, not her own. Instead of posing for the tabloid photographers who arrived to misrepresent her, she stole their camera cases, “…climbing over cars with about a dozen men in hot pursuit.”
While reading Feelings are Facts, it was as if my mind was walking while looking at a steady but always evolving point. Similar to the repetitive daily movements Rainer has rewritten in dance, my mind was undoing and putting together routines otherwise known as the struggle of making work. I was reminded of the constants like delis walking through a city and then the exclamations. Or as Rainer puts it in her poem “Seville,” “No matter what arrests the eye/ panty liner/travel broadens.”