More Than Meets the Eye: Remaking Jane Fonda

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2001/2006, Hi-8mm tape, color/sound, 20mins.

In the early 1980s, the celebrity actress/activist Jane Fonda, who was by then known for her sharp anti-war statements and revolutionary idealism during the Vietnam War, produced a series of exercise videotapes, in which she starred. The videos became among the best selling videotapes of all time, and helped usher in a cultural transformation from the communal and political thinking of the 1960s and 70s to the me-decade of the 1980s. More Than Meets the Eye: Remaking Jane Fonda is a remake of one of her exercise videos, with myself as the performer, set in a variety of locations, both public and private, that underscores a sense of supposed embarrassment I as a male might feel by inhabiting what is essentially a feminine landscape. By overlaying the diligent exercise imagery with provocative and pointed quotations from Jane Fonda's activist days, as well as her thoughtful ruminations from her recent autobiography on war, political transformation, female anxiety, and the "need to be perfect," the remake gives voice to my own feelings about the criminality of contemporary war-making and our own complicity in a world that gives rise to a kind of cultural bulimia. In the process, the video becomes an indirect chronicle of the remaking of a celebrity activist and the cultural shifts that allowed it happen.

Read my letter to Jane


"Filmmaker Scott Stark takes a post-modern stance on celebrity activism and how cultural times can change a singular voice of dissent into suddenly being the leader of the Me Generation with More Than Meets the Eye: Remaking Jane Fonda. Stark himself is featured in various settings reenacting some of Jane Fonda's exercise videos, while the actress's own controversial ruminations on the Vietnam War scrolls across the screen, creating a highly conflicting juxtaposition of her role in both the '70s and '80s cultural movements." -- Jeremy Wheeler, All Movie Guide

"Stark took what was a compartively reductive work, and with a generosity of thought and an empathetic spirit, bravely opened it up to chart his own growth and thought processes. The sensibility is as infectious as the workout routine--viewers are encouraged to reexamine their own thoughts, as well as join in with the calisthenics." -- Chris Stults, Assistant Curator of Film/Video, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio. Read the full article (PDF, 78KB).

"Finally among the image-reprocessors, we find Scott Stark, remaking his own earlier version of a remake of Jane Fonda’s best-selling workout tape (now available in its original form for $1 at Salvation Army stores coast to coast). Stark’s More Than Meets the Eye: Remaking Jane Fonda was, by the artist’s own admission, something of an indictment of Fonda in its previous form, an interrogation of how a vocal feminist and anti-war activist takes on a second life as a fitness guru. But, as Stark explains in his "Letter to Jane" (calling to mind, of course, Godard and Gorin’s cinematic excoriation of Fonda the Hollywood Radical), upon reading Fonda’s autobiography his viewpoint changed, seeing the later Fonda not necessarily as a “remake” or a betrayal but as a personal evolution, a way to understand female embodiment as a significant site for issues of patriarchal power and control of the sort that, in slightly different guises, carpet-bombs Hanoi, not to mention Kabul and Baghdad. Like the first More Than Meets the Eye, Stark tapes himself doing the Jane Fonda Workout in various public and private locations, a shrewd enough gender-reversal in itself. But in the new version, Stark includes Fonda’s own words as superimposed text, forming a running dialogue between multiple “Janes” that perhaps turn out to be more or less integrated and fully empowered. At first I wasn’t sure that these texts improved on Stark’s first edition, but MTMTE2 won me over to the cause. Stark is to be commended not only for his satirical acumen (the piece is hilarious) but also his willingness to revise himself, to make his own socialist-feminist retraction a matter of public record." -- Michael Sicinski, 2006 New York Film Festival 's VIEWS FROM THE AVANT-GARDE "sidebar"

"Imitation of Jane. Anorexia, Activism, Aerobics. Words from decades ago ring true as history repeats, and the U.S. engages in destructive folly on foreign soil while we settle in for the long stretch." -- International Film Festival Rotterdam