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Petals: Vagina Dialogues (2010)

by on 2013/09/29

petals_2010“The crack in the cosmos.”

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This is a film about cooch. Cha Cha. Cooter. Pussy. Crack. Beaver. Pee Pee.

Okay, okay. I’ll wash my mouth out with soap …later.

Whatever your preferred terminology (in this film we get to hear a whole bunch of different terms) Petals is a straight-talking, illuminating documentary about lady parts.

More specifically, it is a Canadian documentary about photographer Nick Karras’ quest to document female genitalia in all of its many instantiations. A professional photographer who is shown taking sombre corporate portraits of executives, Karras’ private passion project was cataloguing ‘petals.’

Big ones, little ones, modest and compact ones, flamboyant and floppy ones, dangly ones, pierced ones.

Like exuberant, involved, intricate Georgia O’Keeffe paintings, this film teaches you that there are ‘petals’ of all shapes, sizes and varieties. These photos – the central subject of this entire film – are shown rather sparingly. When they finally hit the screen, they were, to but it mildly, quite eye-opening.

Interviews with the women who participated in the photo shoots centred on their genitals were thoughtful, interesting and respectful. One woman related her interest in “integrating” herself. By submitting to the photographic sessions, she was trying to accept every part of herself as beautiful.

As Karras notes, the process of photographing genitalia “demystifie(s)” it “and by demystifying it, understanding it a bit more. (The subjects) feel so much more powerful.”

Perhaps. I was interested in the moment when Karras said to a subject that processing the photos in black and white made the viewing of the subject “easier.” Again, perhaps.

Whatever Karras’ motivations – he explores them thoughtfully in this film – he’s done a good thing here. One of the most important functions of his work and the documentary, was underlining the point that there is no such thing as standard-issue womanhood. As one of the interview subjects said, “It is like a snowflake, there is not one that looks like the other.”

The pictures tell the whole story.

I particularly enjoyed the segment with Ina Laughing Winds, a teacher of ancient and native wisdom, broke down all of the multifaceted “types” into an almost astrological sign detail. It was deeply amusing and heartening, I am sure, to all the women who aren’t sure if they are “normal.”

When the credits rolled, I thought Petals dealt with a very important topic, a revelatory one even, done in an earnest if rather ham-handed manner. The interviews with Dr. Sayaka Adachi, a San Diego based sexologist, certified sex educator, Betty Dodson, a pioneer of women’s sexual liberation, Dr. Linda Savage, a published cultural anthropologist, were great – jam packed with thoughtful arguments – but at times they were poorly recorded, clumsily shot and strangely edited.

All of that notwithstanding, I did admire the effort. It was wide-ranging, ambitious and dealt with a woefully under-represented topic.

I’d recommend Petals to mothers who want to share some wisdom with teenage daughters – provided they could keep their daughters in the same room for the 78-minute run time.

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78 minutes


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