Review By: Jason Oliver
As a part of Film Seizure’s continuing coverage of the 2022 Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX we bring you this review of Amanda Kramer’s Give Me Pity!
With a pair of showings at the 2022 Fantastic Fest, Amanda Kramer’s surreal video diary by way of 1970’s public access variety show, Give Me Pity! was unleashed onto more than one unsuspecting audience member. I am one who was previously uninitiated to her work, but have been anxiously awaiting the opportunity to see her other 2022 work, Please Baby Please, due in theaters this October. Nothing about Give Me Pity! has done anything to dissuade me of that anticipation. If nothing else, I now feel more adequately prepared for Kramer’s unique visual style and voice. Nothing about Give Me Pity! is conventional. I would have a very difficult time recommending it to anyone with less of an appetite for the strange, off-beat, and lyrical story-telling deployed here. In fact, I’m not sure it can even be called a movie at all given that the entire 80 minute feature is a supposed television special featuring the wide ranging talents of our protagonist, Sissy St. Claire (Sophie von Haselberg). It’s presented with all the sparkle, glow, and color desaturation, in glorious 4:3, that you would easily have seen on a Saturday night on TV presented by Sonny & Cher or The Partridge Family, complete with musical numbers, sketch comedy, and reading letters from fans.
But something’s not quite right with Sissy St. Claire. Every song, sketch, and segment gives a different aspect of Sissy’s fracturing psyche and her obsession with “Making It” as she calls it. It became clear to me early on that this is not happening in normal reality. What we are experiencing are Sissy’s delusions of grandeur, narcissism, insecurities, vanity, and desperate attention seeking bleeding through the cracks of her imagination. We’re in her brain and her brain is a variety show. There is also something else lurking in Sissy’s mind by way of a masked entity skulking near the stage and seemingly thwarting Sissy’s progress as she attempts to self-actualize.
One might think this exercise, a deconstruction of fame seeking, might get tedious, but it does not. The segments never outwear their welcome, vary wildly, and Sophie von Haselberg’s (Bette Midler’s daughter) performance is so strong and engrossing that you can wait to see what Kramer will have Sissy say or do next. Take the psychological horror out (and trust me, this is a horror film) and you still have a wickedly funny social satire. This is clear from the start when Sissy admires and compares herself to Jesus Christ, but not as a Messiah Complex mind you. Sissy admires Jesus’ commitment to “Making It” and the genius of his “twist” which of course is his “comeback”.
Throughout all of Sissy’s internal struggle there is some truly good music. There are several great numbers, but I found myself singing “Making It” to myself hours later and even now as I write this. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that musician Bryan Scary was responsible for writing the music for Give Me Pity as well as the upcoming Please Baby Please. I’ve been a fan of Scary’s since his first album, 2006’s The Shredding Tears, but had lost track of him in recent years. I’ve often described his music as Rocky Horror meets The Beatles and all of that campy theatrical flair and pop catchiness is on display here in the soundtrack.
But what really makes Give Me Pity! work is the performance by Sophie von Haselberg. She is mesmerizing as a character you probably won’t like, are kind of annoyed by, but who is so completely revealing of themselves that you do, in fact, find yourself crying, laughing, and screaming inside with her and yes, ultimately pitying her. She’s capable of so much nuanced insecurity and masked self-confidence, often in the span of minutes and even seconds, that it’s a wonder to watch. It’s a very theatrical performance embedded with subtle pain and exuberance at every turn.
It’s become cliche’ to say that a film is destined for cult status and midnight theater showings. More often than not, it’s a backhanded compliment and not entirely giving the film its due at face value. In the case of Give Me Pity!, I think Kramer has made something that is unique, poignant, and deeply personal; a resonate work of art, while also tailor made for audience discovery, ie: cult status. Nearly anyone can see a little of themselves in Sissy and Kramer has used her as a mirror for us all to safely examine our own insecurities. To paraphrase Sissy herself, cliches are something everyone agrees to, which makes them true.