The First of Many (2017). 13 min. Directed by Elizabeth Guest and Pamela Guest. Featuring Elizabeth Guest, Kristin Slaysman, and Lawrence Michael Levine.
The strength of Pamela and Elizabeth Guest’s mother/daughter relationship shines brightly through their 2017 film, The First of Many, a story based on the true events of Pamela’s past. The duo went beyond co-directing and co-producing the film; Pamela also wrote the script, and the character of her younger self was impressively performed by Elizabeth.
Although The First of Many takes place in the past (1971), its story feels all too familiar, all too relatable to the current and uncomfortable circumstances of certain first-time acting auditions. The story follows a young Pamela as she auditions for one of her first movie roles. As a wide-eyed college student, she enters the audition room with nerves and enthusiasm. She attempts to contain her excitement, which is tastefully alluded to through the subtle accompaniment of a lighthearted soundtrack. The camera stays fixed in close-ups, allowing viewers to truly get a sense of who she is (how she reacts, how she moves, etc.). When left alone in the room, Pamela rushes to a nearby mirror to quickly check her makeup and fix her hair before finally allowing herself to celebrate and release this hidden elation she had been keeping at bay. Pamela serves as a mirror, allowing audiences to see a reflection of themselves in her naïve and likeable nature.
The music fades as the director, Patrick (played by Lawrence Michael Levine), enters the audition room. His coolness is performed with such ease; on the rare occasions his smile is revealed, viewers aren’t necessarily presented with a feeling of comfort, but rather condescendence and judgement. Pamela rambles off lengthy answers to all of Patrick’s short and personal questions. She represents a warm and trusting character; you can relate to her honesty and willingness to devote her best efforts to any work she would receive.
As Pamela speaks, Patrick fumbles with the camera settings, adjusting the focus and framing of the audition tape. As viewers, we switch to his point of view as this happens: we watch as the film suddenly transfers from a bright and welcoming tone to the camera’s gritty, black and white representation of reality. Some viewers might feel that this drastic visual change pulls viewers away from the story, but I would have to disagree: even if this change in display calls attention to the medium of film, it will allow viewers to recall on the fact that this film is not just a story–it is a representation of history itself. The film’s mood shifts at this point, too–you realize that Patrick, although asking personal questions, is not here to make a friend. He is prioritizing his time in order to receive what he needs. He reacts shortly to Pamela’s extended responses, and it is only when he speaks of himself that he exudes a sense of enthusiasm and passion. Unfortunately this character type is one we are all too familiar with. For decades, women in the industry have been overlooked, and their voices are often unheard by the patronizing and authoritative men in the room. Patrick’s egocentric identity is subtly constructed, gaining prominence as the film moves forward.
However, he eases back into his calm and encouraging persona as he hands Pamela the script, which she had never seen before. The camera follows Patrick as he paces the floor, observing Pamela’s nervous and quick preparation. The film flutters back to the black and white reality of the recording, as Patrick peers through the lens, allowing the tone to shift once again. Pamela fumbles with how she should execute the audition, but remains eager all the same. Yet, even in the beginning stages of her acting career, Pamela is able to recognize the strangeness of the audition: no one to read the script with her, no prior knowledge of the script, only Patrick to man the camera and direct the process. As the film proceeds, the situation’s uncomfortable tone escalates, both for Pamela and the viewers of the film.
There is much to be said about the execution of this film. Take the acting for example; Pamela emits authenticity in every movement, with her notable mannerisms amidst awkward silences to her hunched posture resulting from nerves and tension. Her charm immediately draws the viewer in, allowing them to see a likeness of themselves in her hopeful and anxious nature. Patrick’s character is equally believable; his reserved but predatory nature evokes a strong sense of tension, both for Pamela and the audience. These performances realistically enhance the credible essence of the film.
The cinematography is an integral aspect of the storytelling as well, as it creates a personal connection with the individuals shown on screen. The point of view shots are equally striking, too. The audition room camera serves as a guiding tool for the viewers, as it switches points of view while simultaneously shifting the tone of the scene.
Pamela’s point of view is also presented in the film. Without the aid of her glasses, her vision becomes blurred, and the camera’s ability to represent her nearsightedness is executed seamlessly; the shot loses focus the moment Pamela hands her glasses off to Patrick. The lack of sharpness in the frame can easily be read as a reflection of Pamela’s internal confusion too, with her loss of perspective on the situation as it intensifies. As the scene escalates, her perception becomes even more distorted, although this distortion involves more than just a physical loss of sight, it involves a lost state of mind and a rushed sense of complicated confusion.
The First of Many is an important story that shines a light on the traumatic events many actors have had and continue to face. The naturalistic tone of the film provides an engaging experience for its audience, allowing individuals to dive deep into the story without hesitation. The film presents its audiences with many opportunities for emotional participation as well, with its impressions of uncertainty, confusion, and solicitude. Elizabeth and Pamela Guest exhibit the duality of distress and resilience in their work: they represent not only their own history and experiences, but those of countless others, and because of this they epitomize the immense power of solidarity and perseverance.
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