Beauty in the eye of the camera


For her senior-thesis project, cinema and media studies major Claire Gilbert, '07, focused on something she knows and loves: her family—specifically, her younger sister Holly, who competed in the 2006 Miss Kentucky beauty pageant last July. Shown at Doc Films Tuesday night, "My Sister the Beauty Queen" fulfilled the creative component of Gilbert's BA project.

About 150 people gathered outside the theater at 9:30, waiting for the doors to open. Twenty minutes later (and 20 minutes late), the audience poured in. Gilbert stood diminutive before the giant screen, and the crowd—full of her friends—cheered loudly. "I'm sorry you had to wait so long," she said, "but I promise you it's worth the wait."

The documentary opened with a scene of Holly, 19, and youngest sister Ellen singing along to Switchfoot's "Meant to Live" in the Gilberts' home in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Wearing a pink Transylvania University shirt, Holly hams for the camera, singing, "We were meant to live for so much more / Have we lost ourselves?"

Gilbert gives a complex picture of Holly, who ultimately finished among the top ten in the pageant: she bickers with her mother and despairs at not having close friends; she snaps at the camera and at Claire after a six-hour rehearsal—"please don't exploit me with your filmmaking"; and she says, "You're beautiful" while signing the notebook of a little girl wearing a tiara after the pageant.

In the final scene, Holly sings along to the radio again. Ellen says, "Claire, you know if you turned off the camera, she'd be sane," prompting Holly to consider how she reacts to being filmed. She sounds self-mocking but thoughtful when she says, "It's like being in front of a crowd of people, a nonexistent crowd of people that you've conjured up in your mind through a logical train of reasoning." The audience laughs, not because they think Holly is being facetious, but because it sounds like something they might say themselves in Hum or Sosc.

Jenny Fisher, '07

Photo: Holly Gilbert sings for the camera.

Movie still courtesy Claire Gilbert.

May 23, 2007