Caught Paval & Hodges “Trinidad” when it played in Rhinebeck as part of the Woodstock Film Festival.
They have said that they initially set out to do a movie about the “Sex Change Capital Of The World,” but are now promoting the movie about three trans women.
This may well explain why the movie is torn between interviews and set-pieces about how Trinidad natives view gender and their town’s noteriety. Yet, there is no exploration of the history around Stanley Biber, in fact an NPR story heard in the film gives the only decent background.
It seems that the women started off being secondary before being pressed into service as a storyline for the film, and it plays that way. The documentary sequences are limited; most of their presence is in interviews which are underscored by sad, haunting and haunted music.
I was regularly chatting with one of the principals in the movie as the story went on. This isn’t new to me; I was regularly chatting with Lola Cola as she and Robert Eads faced his last days, as documented in the amazing film “Southern Comfort.”
Kate Davis was making a TV documentary on trans when she met Robert, and used a then new digital video camera to document his life. The story was primary there, and that means that the film is full of love, love all the way around.
You know the most important trans surgery, right?
It’s when you finally pull the stick out of your own ass.
It seemed to me that Hodges and Raval were more interested in the stick than the removal of it, and Trinidad offers few people who sway and move naturally. Their approach is very literal; getting shots to symbolize something, such as a transwoman entering a church, rather than to reveal something, such as shots of that transwoman interacting with the congregation.
Marci Bowers and others talk about Trinidad as a “spiritual center” for transsexuals, but there is almost no spirituality on display in the movie. Instead there is an obsession with the “art” of creating neo-vaginas, from both Biber and Bowers. Bowers then goes onto to a discourse on the art of creating a neo-female life, offering distate that the other two women let their grown children still call them “dad.”
From the images on the screen, which revel in clinical detail, to the ideas offered, Trinidad is a movie about sex changes, their lives, their details, their capital.
Sadly, at least to me, that means that it is not a movie about transwomen and their experience; their feelings of loss, their claiming a new life, not a movie about the love that drives them and ties them together.
It is my understanding that the primary goal of MorningLow house wasn’t about the details of surgery or even the details of restoring an old house on a shoestring. Rather, the primary goal was someplace that the emotional and spirtual sides of transition could be facilitated, not just altered bodies but emerging souls.
Maybe, if MorningLow had gone into operation, the stories of those who passed through and those who cared for them — those who loved them — would have been more prominent.
But as it is, Trinidad shows a town much like other old railroad towns of the west, where people roll in, are serviced and then leave, new and repaired.
And looking at the mechanics who choose to do that work is much less compelling than the stories of those who have passed through, and then moved on into new and transformed lives, now opened to their own Eros and their own love of the world.
Trinidad. Not worth the trip, at least for me.