Block Cinema screening event of ‘No Ordinary Man’ explores trans histories, representation and archives


Daily file photo by Jonah Elkowitz

The Block Museum hosts filmmaker Chase Joynt for workshop and film screening event.

Kalina Pierga, Reporter

The Block Museum screened the documentary “No Ordinary Man” alongside a discussion and workshop with co-Director Chase Joynt on Thursday.

The film tells the story of Billy Tipton, a transmasculine jazz musician whose trans identity was not revealed until after his death. It blends classic documentary-style interviews and archival materials with present-day reenactments of moments from Tipton’s life by transmasculine actors, presented as clips of audition tapes.

These clips — an unorthodox documentary storytelling technique — present a fresh rumination on Tipton’s experience as a trans man, according to Nathan Lamp, the program’s co-curator.

Michael Metzger, Pick-Laudati curator of media arts at The Block Museum, said “No Ordinary Man” propels the story of Billy Tipton beyond historical archives. He said the film takes on a process of discovery, rather than a rote recounting, of Tipton’s story.

“(They) find meaning through workshopping performances (and) through conversations with trans scholars and historians, with other trans musicians and artists,” Metzger said.

Instead of focusing only on Tipton’s death and the controversy that followed it, “No Ordinary Man” uses Tipton’s story as a jumping-off point for conversations about trans representation in the media and in archival memory.

In the Q&A, Joynt said this method emphasized the capacity for art to excavate past histories and draw out present-day lessons.

Prior to the film screening, Joynt hosted a workshop to discuss his approach to documentary filmmaking, to explore themes reflected in “No Ordinary Man” and to screen his film “Framing Agnes”. It explored topics of media, representation and queer and trans archival work, according to Malia Haines-Stewart, The Block Museum’s associate film programmer.

This workshop is part of The Block Museum’s effort to make films an immersive, personal experience for the Northwestern community, Haines-Stewart said.

“We are seeking opportunities to engage the filmmakers that we have the privilege of bringing to Northwestern,” Haines-Stewart said. “(The Block Museum seeks to) engage them on deeper levels and build bridges for their connection to the student community.”

The Block Museum collaborated with performance studies third-year PhD candidate Nathan Lamp to program this event.

Lamp said “No Ordinary Man” immediately stood out during the film selection process.

“(Within the film) there is a real exploration of what it means to be represented, to have control of your own story, and to unearth stories that haven’t been given their proper due,” Lamp said. “It’s a love letter to trans people and to the trans experiences that don’t get a primary place in our culture.”

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