Documentary: Gaga: Five Foot Two (available on Netflix)
Director: Chris Moukarbel
Producers: Heather Parry and Lady Gaga
The first scene when the rock star introduces herself on the phone, “It’s Stefani!” you know that this the story of the girl who began her career singing in her undies and not a pop queen.
The movie begins with behind-the-scenes shots of Gaga rehearsing for A million reasons and gains tempo at a snail’s pace which I feel is apt to narrate a humbling tale of fame rather than a larger than life of a popstar. The dialogues are raw and striking in terms of how close they are to a regular person and still distant. Here are a few of my favourite ones:
On milking and mining life’s troubles for creativity
Artists have been charged guilty of turning every plight of their life into a bestseller and the charges are true. I’m nothing close to Mama Monster, but I too have been accused of whipping life’s incidents into stories for praise and sympathy.
Well, aren’t you the same people who say that anger, stress, hurt must be channelised into creative endeavours? Then, when people find the outcome beautiful, resonating with them (because everyone’s broken and in pain), and are ready to pay to own it, why is that bothersome?
“You have to go to that broken place of your heart to write songs. They say, sometimes it’s like open heart surgery, you know, making music. Every time, it’s invasive.”
I feel that artists and creators feel pain much more than others – on a much deeper level and yet at a higher level.
Pain dissolved in artistry and performance is still pain.
Even in pain, she doesn’t lose her humour:
“All you need to knock you out of your trauma is to be further traumatised.”
She says that taking a dig at Trump. But you can’t deny the harsh ‘medical’ truth lurking behind it. I often push my way through my migraine – I work, I watch action movies, I play games on my phone. Why?
Because the pain isn’t throbbing enough to drop me into sleep.
On being the woman-in-command in a man’s world
“When producers, unlike Mark, start to act like they’re the one – you know, “You’d be nothing without me!” – For women especially, it’s those that have so much power that they can have women in a way that no men can.”
Her words reminded me of another woman-in-command, I know of, who is in open rebellion in a man’s world – Kangana Ranaut – a rock star in her own way.
The way Gaga decodes her makeup and costume for playing a witch in American Horror Story comes close to Kangana’s stance of her character in her movie, Simran.
No matter how high you soar, a battle with patriarchy will always be on.
On being “born this way” – a human with fears, flaws and fallings
Lady Gaga instantly became an inspiration for me when I first heard her song, Born This Way, and felt that there’s someone who gets me, who wants me to own my self, be it my shortcomings or my goodness. I don’t speak for everyone, but her voice, her words have managed to heal me – from “Born this way to “The cure”.
Her initial declaration in the movie confirms the healing properties of music:
“I’m like in a different time in my life now. I just feel like my threshold for bullshit with men….I don’t have one anymore….I don’t know if it’s because I’m 30 and I feel better…All my insecurities are gone….I’m 30 and I don’t feel insecure about who I’m as a woman. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of what I have.”
Interestingly though, in the rest of the movie I found her seeking people’s validation while grappling with the constant fear of losing them and not being good enough.
Towards the middle of the movie, she opens up about the inspiration behind Joanne, her late aunt she was named after (Lady Gaga: Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta). She asks her grandmother to be the judge of whether she’s done justice to Joanne’s tribute or not.
Ten minutes later, she asks,“Do I look pathetic?” during a physiotherapy session. It is clear that she is embarrassed of her condition and is trying her best not to glamorise it. In fact, she’s fighting the stigma.
Bottom line: No one’s got it all.
I like that the documentary is shot objectively – it doesn’t portray the chronic pain of Fibromyalgia as her scapegoat, and neither renders Lady Gaga as an object of pity.
On being Stefani and not being accepted for her
“I had to go into the part of myself that you don’t want to face. I don’t think the world was ready to see who I really am, because I wasn’t ready to be myself. I’m saying, this is me with nothing.”
How do you explain such rejection? Wouldn’t you be forced to question love (fame)? Hordes of people assembled to catch glimpse of her reality-bypassing meat dress, but when she turned up in black shorts and only eyeliner for makeup, the streets were silent.
Fame sets your image in stone which, if you try to remould, is not taken very well by your makers (fans). Gaga is as much a Stefani creation as much as it of her fans.
Fans loved her audacity. Would they accept her authenticity? – this question haunts her throughout the film.
I wonder if this reality check led to Perfect Illusion.
I have always been honest about my physical and mental health struggles. Searching for years to get to the bottom of them. It is complicated and difficult to explain, and we are trying to figure it out. As I get stronger and when I feel ready, I will tell my story in more depth, and plan to take this on strongly so I can not only raise awareness, but expand research for others who suffer as I do, so I can help make a difference. I use the word “suffer” not for pity, or attention, and have been disappointed to see people online suggest that I’m being dramatic, making this up, or playing the victim to get out of touring. If you knew me, you would know this couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m a fighter. I use the word suffer not only because trauma and chronic pain have changed my life, but because they are keeping me from living a normal life. They are also keeping me from what I love the most in the world: performing for my fans. I am looking forward to touring again soon, but I have to be with my doctors right now so I can be strong and perform for you all for the next 60 years or more. I love you so much.
On isolation of fame and resilience of character
Most frames were filled with many people – her coworkers, friends and family. However, her face radiated isolation. Initially, I felt it was an intentional detachment necessary for an artist. My presumptions were put to rest when she started talking about losing people at important junctures of her life:
“But like, I’m just….I’m alone, Brandon, every night….And I go from everyone touching me all day and talking at me all day to total silence.”
This is a brilliantly shot scene with Gaga plunging herself in water, drowning down, a background sound of water synced with her words, total silence. A few moments later, she resurfaces as if saying, “I’ll always survive.”
Gaga: Surrounded and alone.
On existing for music and performing for fans
From Kangana’s recent series of interviews and controversial speeches, you can tell how invested she is in her work. They are no longer some films she is starring in. They are creative projects perfected only with collaboration.
Gaga’s personal stake in her performances crystallises when she fusses over the inner lining of her jacket. The last scenes of Super Bowl performance might make her the poster girl for ownership in a collaborative affair:
“If I pick up the keytar and I play the wrong note in front of a hundred million people, that’s my fault! It doesn’t matter that someone else screwed it up, that’s my name.”
Some may call her self-centred but a queen has to be that way – brilliant and focused, on herself. (That goes out for you too, Kangana!)
“I want to be an old rock star lady!”
This is some serious confession for growing up with her fans. While most celebrities prefer prolonging their youth, Gaga seems to celebrate it. It isn’t a coincidence that she mentions her age thrice in the film.
On being a girl with fame
In one of the scenes she is clicking a picture to be put on Instagram when she is reminded of her fandom and says, “Don’t remind me!” She’s a pop star. She knows it. But the magnitude of her fame freezes her.
In another scene, she goes out to check if stores are still stocking up her CDs, since Joanne was leaked online, and is seen scouting for them. She secretly places her CDs in front of CDs of other artists in an attempt to get more visibility – cheeky like a regular girl.
The segment where reporters and RJs ask for her reaction over her broken engagement and upcoming album felt hurtful. “Non-famous” people like us with a limited circle easily get overwhelmed in such a scenario. Imagine the plight of someone followed by 18 million pairs of eyeballs!
Oddly enough, in the part where she calls out Madonna to tell it (Gaga’s music is a piece of shit) to her face, I was again reminded of Kangana demanding confrontation.
Over to you
You might think that I read too much in the documentary or that the narrative is controlled considering Gaga co-produced it. However, being shot in the vérité style there is little room for pretence.
One of my favourite moments was the last note of her acoustic piano performance of Bad Romance where even her closed eye lashes quivered with her vocal chords. Can you script that?
I believe, there’s a lot more to her than could be accommodated in a 100-minute show reel. The movie covers only a year of her life and focuses primarily on her “second” innings of fame (the reincarnation of Lady Gaga) and not how she rose to that stature. So, the film is going to disappoint the lovers of classic documentary which document information.
But one thing that becomes clear is that this performer is no fluke. She has worked hard to reach those heights and is still very much in that “tireless bee” zone.
Could this be a PR exercise for upcoming movie, A star is born? We’ll have to see.
Nonetheless, I adore the irony and truth in the way this documentary is named – Gaga: Five Foot Two —
Her stature might be boundless, but this is that Gaga who is just five foot two.
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