Geri (1999) + Tim’s Creswell’s Notion of Place
Tim Cresswell’s notion of place distorts the dictionary meaning of place: a particular position, point, or area in space; a location. Creswell’s Place: A Short Introduction explores how human geography is fundamental in the conception of place, furthermore, a vital component of documentary research. Creswell’s notion of place focuses on the ‘realm of meaning and experience’ (Cresswell 2004), rather than geography. He instead believes that space is a ‘way of seeing, knowing and understanding the world’ (Cresswell 2004). Furthermore, that seeing the world in this way is antagonistic to how people rationalise the world focussing on geographic space rather than place. Instead, documentary research should focus on the human geography and the connections made to or within a space. Similarly, how a ‘place’ is represented. This is vital when considering documentary film because, ultimately, the documentarian is shaping the representation of a certain place. In this paper I am going to use Molly Dineen’s Geri (1999) to illustrate Cresswell’s notion of place.
Molly Dineen is an acclaimed contemporary documentary filmmaker. She is known for her probing, intimate portraits of British individuals and institutions. Dineen is also the recipient of numerous awards including Grierson, BAFTA and RTS for documentary. In May 1998, Geri Halliwell left the Spice Girls. One of Halliwell’s first instincts was to record this process in order to share her perspective on the event and to archive the proceedings. Subsequently, she contacted documentarian Molly Dineen to be involved. The film followed Halliwell’s life through a six-month period of self-exploration and experimentation, especially regarding her celebrity identity. In this instance, Geri, the pop-star British icon, became the place Dineen wished to penetrate. What is most fascinating about this film is its exploration of celebrity identity versus self identity. Halliwell lived parallel lives–powerful Spice Girl and sex symbol to the world, and vulnerable daughter at home. Dineen situated herself between the two and that became the centralised ‘place’ of the documentary. Ultimately, the documentary encapsulated Halliwell’s struggle for meaning, image control and authenticity, which is something many people can relate to. If place can be centred on human experience and connection, this particular paradox is something many people are familiar with.
In the opening sequence Halliwell announces she will “be herself”. This frames the remainder of the film. What is her self? What defines oneself? The film moves between the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of Halliwell’s performances, including her role as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations, and through her private life, particularly her mother’s home. Dineen has framed Halliwell’s fragmented life perfectly in these two locations. Behind-the-scenes as Geri Halliwell, the popstar, she is physically well-groomed, glamorized and painfully considered. Contrastly, at home she is stripped back, natural and less curated. Similarly, the juxtaposition of acute support and celebration from Halliwell’s fans and the lack of support she feels at home. By the last quarter of the film Dineen has defined a link between Geri’s “be herself” ordinariness and her mediated celebrity self. Firstly, by her role as ambassador at the United Nations (as this is seen as using one’s celebrity to enact positive change based on personal preferences or morality) and her solo music pursuits, wherein we see Halliwell singing a song about her self-esteem issues.
The notion of self and identity is the anchor for the whole documentary. Dineen gently probes Halliwell about her feelings regarding leaving the Spice Girls, and even goes as far as to encourage Halliwell to talk about whether she is happy or not. Therefore, largely, the film is about self-revelation. Human geography is the study of places, though there is little understanding as to what ‘place’ is. The definitions vary through different areas of interest and industries i.e. philosophy and history (Cresswell 2004). Cresswell argues that ‘place as “things” are quite obscure and hard to grasp’, when in fact, place is simply a way of understanding the world. Although it may be considered an abstruse concept, I believe identity is the ‘place’ for which Molly Dineen situated her story and research when she created Geri (1999). Halliwell’s connection to home and her thirst for celebrity are equally important in illuminating the place of self awareness and identity. Halliwell’s paralleled lifestyles– ordinary, hopeful young woman and daughter at home, versus, globally recognised and admired British pop star–are connected through this concept of identity and the authentic self.
Cresswell, T. (2004). Place : a short introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub