Fantastic Fest Shorts: NOTHING A LITTLE SOAP AND WATER CAN’T FIX Is Found Footage Film Critique

Jennifer Proctor's editing experiment is an unsettling visual essay on safe spaces.

We often forget that nothing about “found footage” is actually “found” at all. It’s manufactured; just like any other piece of narrative filmmaking, technique causes it to look damaged, worn, or of the moment. Pieces of personal camcorder footage captured while out in the woods on some spooky hiking journey, or security cam tape of ghosts opening doors in private residences are nothing more than carefully (or lazily, depending on your FF stance) designed visual magic tricks.  Nothing about them was "discovered", but rather produced to elicit an emotional effect.

This is what makes Jennifer Proctor’s Nothing a Little Soap and Water Can’t Fix so special. An experimental editing exercise, the Texas-by-way-of-Michigan filmmaker has compiled a series of images analyzing how women are portrayed in the bathtub, particularly in genre cinema. The short is comprised of nothing but clips that she's (along with sound designer Cecil Decker) cobbled together, creating a mini-storyline while simultaneously dissecting how filmmakers have transformed the washroom from an intimate space to a dangerous, haunting place. But Proctor’s work also reclaims the idea of “found footage”, literalizing the concept so that Nothing a Little Soap and Water Can’t Fix is entirely comprised of clips from other artists’ works. She's "found" the narrative she wants to tell while analyzing countless hours of cinema. 

There’s something assaultive about the way Proctor builds and builds to a shrill crescendo. But there’s also a ton of filmic love and knowledge on display, as she lifts from classics (Blood and Black Lace [‘64], The Shining [‘80], A Nightmare on Elm Street [‘84], Fatal Attraction [‘87]) and cult objects (Blood Feast [‘63], Shivers [‘75], Slaughter High [‘86]) with equal enthusiasm. Proctor also pulls from newer movies (Gone Girl [‘14], Jessabelle [‘14]), illustrating that these images aren’t quitting anytime soon. Just like any other art form, pulp filmmaking is one that builds on its past, recycling and repurposing that which came before in an effort to try and say something new. The notion Nothing a Little Soap and Water Can’t Fix posits is that these visuals slid from the naked to the nefarious over time, as women became less and less safe in the enviroments they should feel most comfortable in. All the sudden, a giggly leg wiggle is prelude to a bathtub full of blood, as pleasure gives way to pain via a single smash cut. Worse yet, it’s almost always a man standing above that glassy surface, staring down at a female form suffocating in a basin full of warm water. 

Fantastic Fest paired Nothing a Little Soap and Water Can’t Fix with the Alfred Hitchcock documentary 78/52, and the combination was possibly the event's most ingenious programming decision. A dissection of the infamous shower scene in Psycho, 78/52 introduces the idea that the master of suspense was “killing off all women” by murdering Marion Crane in such graphic fashion. In one of that film’s numerous talking head interviews, Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show) states that, during the 30s and 40s, actresses often received top billing in motion pictures. That trend dissipated over time, as male leads became the marquee names on which movies were sold during the 50s and 60s. With one shocking act of violence in ’60, Hitch visualizes this unfortunate movement, turning his woman on the lam storyline into an interrogation of Norman Bates’ villainous act. Proctor’s experiment is a similar dissection, showing us that the movies have made even the most intimate spaces unsafe for women, devaluing their existence and contributions to cinema. Her brilliance is only exceeded by her thrilling attention to craft, as Nothing a Little Soap and Water Can’t Fix becomes utterly mesmerizing in its own right, casting a hypnotic spell that doubles as quite the clever bit of feminist film criticism. 

You can watch the trailer for Nothing a Little Soap and Water Can’t Fix, along with many of Jennifer Proctor’s, other works on her website