Film Review: Framing Agnes
Director: Chase Joynt
Fae Pictures and Level Ground
Release Date: 01.22
Framing Agnes could have been an academic paper, but it’s a good thing that it isn’t. The film is a visual treat and focuses on the story of a study of trans and gender-nonconforming people conducted at UCLA in the 1960s. However, it goes further than that—director Chase Joynt gives what could have been an online infographic dimension by engaging stories of the past with stories from the present.
Framing Agnes follows a group of transgender actors performing as participants in the UCLA study and recreating scenes from transcripts of interviews in a talk show format. However, Joynt doesn’t hesitate to show the audience what’s going on behind the camera. Each actor is given the opportunity to divulge thoughts on the individual they are embodying and to share thoughts on being trans themselves. The interviews and talk show segments are supplemented with commentary from a historian, who is also trans and specializes in the archival studies featured in the film.
As an educational tool, the film works flawlessly. Even if a viewer is familiar with important historical figures like Agnes Torres, who was, according to the film, the first woman in the US to receive gender reassignment surgery, the film provides access to lesser-known accounts and portrayals of people like Georgia, a Black trans woman. If the viewer is unfamiliar with the concept of trans people at all, Framing Agnes would be a warm, welcome introduction. While the film is not specifically directed at children, it would be perfect as a launch board for a discussion with young teenagers.
In costumes, locations and cinematography, Framing Agnes is worth the watch. Joynt allows his actors to embody their roles in more than words alone. They are seen in gorgeous ’60s outfits, providing interesting and substantial visuals to accompany the thoughts of both the present and the past.
If the film has one weakness, it is perhaps that Joynt is involved on screen just a bit too much. It makes sense that he is present in the film, especially as he himself is trans, but in some cases someone else may have been more appropriate. Joynt is a wonderful interviewer, able to acquire eloquent and beautiful answers from his subjects in the modern world, but he doesn’t feel as natural in the world of the ’60s talk show. Still, you can’t fault Joynt too much, as he is the heart and soul of the project.
Framing Agnes is about being human. One need not be trans to understand it. The film expresses ideas about re-evaluating our relationship with the past in a way that is both entertaining and informative, a rare combination. The stories of the individuals featured, both past and present, are incredible stories of survival. Joynt’s reliance on an array of stories helps convey the fact that everything, from surviving to enjoying life, can be done in different ways. There’s no correct way to be yourself, as long as you’re doing just that. –Mickey Randle