Gate of Heaven
Steve Kazmierski, Director of Photography for A Hole In One, went with me up to the cemetery of the decommissioned Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center, where we shot this short film. Writing for the New York Times, Randy Kennedy accompanied us and wrote about our visit and the feature film. I had first seen this cemetery while scouting locations for A Hole In One. The impression of visiting it made me rewrite the ending to the film.
A Hole In One is about a woman in 1953 in an abusive relationship, living in a small U.S. town, who decides she wants a lobotomy. It originated in a piece of performance art I did based on the psychiatric records of a W.W. II veteran who suffered a psychotic break at Princeton University and then died while a patient at a V.A. psychiatric hospital. The veteran was my mother's only brother. My uncle either escaped or wandered off from the grounds of the hospital and was hit by a train. He was named "Richard" after their father and that was the name I had been given at my birth less that two years before my uncle's death.
What stood out to me about his hospital records was that, although they were intended to tell a narrative--a story--about the patient, they also told a story about the storytellers. The standard narrative of the rise of modern mental healthcare in the U.S. begins with the treatment of veterans after W.W. II. I had just started a doctoral program in comparative literature at NYU. I wrote my doctorate on the literary and cultural repercussions of the rise of mental healthcare in the U.S. after W.W. II. During my research, I worked with a number of clinical groups and volunteered at an outpatient center for patients with chronic and often severe forms of mental illness. At the outpatient center I assistant-directed their theater program. It was about to be eliminated but when my friend Leslie Camhi wrote an article in the Village Voice about one of our performances, the center's administration was shamed into suspending its termination. I also designed a group at the center where we read aloud the short stories of Hawthorne, Melville and Poe. All of this became part of the basis for A Hole In One - Starring Michelle Williams and Meat Loaf, it is now on YouTube. I include a link to it below.