This Is Me on Top of You

By Brittany MenjivarMarch 15, 2024

This Is Me on Top of You
VAL + THE AMATEURIST, NOW INSTANT IMAGE HALL, Chinatown, Los Angeles, March 9, 2024.

Getting ready for the screening, everything felt like a performance. I slipped on a pair of black leather pants and wondered if I was subconsciously channeling BDSM aesthetics—and if so, whether I was preparing to dominate (as “Los Angeles Review of Books Freelance Reporter”) or be dominated (as “audience member”). I pulled a houndstooth tank over my head and meditated on the marriage of the professional pattern and the low-cut scoop neck—a dangerous intersection of business and pleasure. In the car, I listened to Pulp’s “This Is Hardcore,” a song that casts two lovers as actor and director.

I had just read Mara Mckevitt’s Making Of (2023)—a memoir in which the artist discusses the process of writing, directing, and starring in the short film Val (2023). Inspired by various women for whom she had worked in the past, Mckevitt created an alter ego named Val Breeder to embody the prototypical “nightmare boss.” Mckevitt exhibited video art and made public appearances disguised as Breeder for three years, hoping that the experience would be freeing in some way—but eventually, she realized that this fictional character was exploiting her the way a real employer might.

The only option was to kill her—and to capture the act on camera. Val, as Making Of explains, is the result, an allegorical snuff film in which Mckevitt (playing herself) is humiliated and abused by Breeder (played by Emily Allan) before taking matters into her own hands. As I slipped into Now Instant’s cozy Chinatown theater that evening, ready to watch the spectacle play out, the voice of Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker echoed through my mind: “It’s gonna be one hell of a night.”

We were first treated to a screening of Miranda July’s 1998 short The Amateurist, in which an ambiguously characterized “‘professional’ woman monitors an ‘amateur’ woman” through a TV set. The themes of mirroring, self-assessment, and art-making as an exorcism of selfhood continued in Val, which takes place in a single location—an office cast in a sickly green glow. Right away, my eye drifted toward the conspicuously plastic-wrapped couch in the corner, revealing the workplace as aesthetically, ergonomically, and spiritually hostile. Of course, it also suggested premeditated murder.

The film opens on Mara at the computer, attempting to copy Val’s files onto her own hard drive. Her motive is irrelevant; the fantasy is that the file transfer might result in some transfer of power. Before Mara can complete the download, Val emerges, hulking over her in high heels, slurring her words through her uncannily red lips. After she places a hand on Mara’s thigh and wedges her pointed shoes between her feet, we see that her transgressions are choreographed. “Your performance is suffering today,” Val says, laying bare a secret—to work an entry-level job is to take on a character.

The tension between Val and Mara is released with an aggressive kiss. When the two pull apart, the lipstick smeared across their faces resembles blood, and they begin to fight, their primal scuffling occasionally landing them in a pornographic position. “This is hardcore, this is me on top of you,” Cocker sang—but the roles in this drama aren’t as clearly delineated. Often, Val seems like she’s poised to win the battle—as when she shoves the delightfully phallic hard drive into Mara’s mouth—but of course, it’s Mara who gets the last laugh. Both Mara and Val move as if possessed wholly by id—which is satisfying to watch, given the common understanding of the workplace as a realm where any emotion, whether frustration, jealousy, or sexual desire, must be repressed.

When the lights came up, Mckevitt sat down for a Q and A with producer Andrea Longacre-White. Discussing the film’s heightened violence and sexuality, Mckevitt referred to Movieclips.com, a virtual catalog of the most famous moments from thousands of blockbusters, which tend to be the most graphic moments. In scripting the narrative, she wanted to “Movieclips it” so that every interaction would be worthy of a highlights reel. If they seem archetypal, it’s because hierarchies can shape behavior in ways that seem both extreme and inevitable. To quote Cocker once more, “in here it is pure […] I’ve seen the storyline played out so many times before.”

Strolling out of the theater, I glanced into a building window and saw a stark white gallery space. I envisioned it as a set; I envisioned the set destroyed. If all the world’s a stage, and all of us merely players, then perhaps all the world’s also an office, and all of us merely employees.

¤


Photo by contributor.

LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.

LARB Contributor

Brittany Menjivar was born and raised in the DMV; she now works and plays in the City of Angels. With her partner in crime Erin Satterthwaite, she runs Car Crash Collective, hosting late-night literary readings at Footsies Bar in Los Angeles. Her poetry and fiction have been featured in HAD, Dream Boy Book Club, Spectra, and Dirt Child, among other publications. Additionally, she was named a 2023 Best of the Net Award Finalist. You can stream her short film “Fragile.com” on YouTube’s ALTER Channel, where it has nearly two million views. You can also find her on Substack: she posts cultural criticism via BRITTPOP, and keeps track of the most exciting events happening in L.A. each week via The Angel Almanac.

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