Kip Jones

KIP JONES, an American by birth, has been studying and working in the UK for more than 20 years.
Under the umbrella term of 'arts-led research', his main efforts have involved developing tools
from the arts and humanities for use by social scientists in research and its impact on a wider
public or a Perfomative Social Science.

Jones was Reader in Performative Social Science and Qualitative Research at
Bournemouth University for 15 years.
He is now a Visiting Scholar and and an independent author and scholar.

Kip has produced films and written many articles for academic journals and authored chapters
for books on topics such as masculinity, ageing and rurality, and older LGBT citizens.
Jones' most recent work involves working with Generation Z youth to tell their stories using
social media.
His ground-breaking use of qualitative methods, including Auto-fiction, biography
and auto-ethnography, and the use of tools from the arts in social science research
and dissemination are well-known.

Jones acted as Author and Executive Producer of
the award-winning short film, RUFUS STONE, funded by Research Councils UK.
The film is now available for free viewing on the Internet
and has been viewed by more than 14,000 people in 150 countries.

Areas of expertise
• Close relationships, culture and ethnicity
• Social psychology, sociology
• Ageing, self and identity
• Interpersonal processes, personality,
individual differences,
social networks, prejudice and stereotyping
• Sexuality and sexual orientation
• Creativity and the use of the
arts in Social Science

Media experience
His work has been reported widely
in the media, including:
BBC Radio 4,BBC TV news,Times
Higher Education, Sunday New
York Times, International
and The Independent.

Monday, 11 January 2010

“It’s very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present, awfully difficult.” *

I am glad that I set the TV to record lots of programmes while I was away recently, particularly some movies that I would otherwise have missed. Last night I watched Grey Gardens, the HBO movie drama based upon the Maysles brothers 1975 documentary of the same name and winner of the 2010 Golden Globe for best motion picture made for television.

Following the film, I watched the documentary as well. A few things stood out for me: one being how much of the dialogue from the documentary is included in the film’s script. The second was how cleverly the actors took on the nuances of the characters, again based upon attention to the details provided in the documentary, but also by digging deep into archival material beforehand.

Jessica Lange, playing ‘Big’ Edie Beale, is just not acting by means of a fantastic ageing transformation accomplished by make-up. She has also done her homework. In one scene in the documentary, Edie removes and then replaces two horn combs from either side of her aged grey hair. In the drama, Lange does the very same bit of ‘stage business’. It is through this attention to personal detail that the character becomes believable and real. The comparisons between the two efforts go on; what is important here is to note how in-depth ‘research’ is being used to produce dramatic story telling.

These are details that take on importance for me in our writing of the script for our project, Gay and Pleasant Land?. At this juncture (where most of the research has been carried out and we are just beginning to use improvisation for script development), my viewing of these two films has added poignancy. Albert Maysles, one of the filmmakers, has stated that the characters are ‘just like anybody else, but more so’. Elsewhere, Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon) reports: ‘It’s very simple to get a cross section of society within a village; you get a microcosm of the social macrocosm’. Our film about being gay and living in a rural village should do exactly that. This is what we hope will give it its universality and connection with the audience.

Grey Gardens (both the drama and the documentary) has been compared to a Greek tragedy. Describing the mother and daughter relationship, Scott Frankel (composer of the musical version of Grey Gardens) has stated that "in this complicated relationship it is always the parent who both inflicts the severest wounds and also bandages them with the most tender care." A decision has been reached that our short film for Gay and Pleasant Land? should be character driven. By creating ‘composite’ characters based upon our research, our ‘docu-drama’ has a better chance at reaching those wide audiences and changing hearts and minds.

Our efforts here (as well as in other filmic work being carried out by myself and Trevor Hearing at Bournemouth University) begin to reshape our thinking about what documentary filmmaking is and how we might change it. No longer satisfied with the slick news reporting style of documentary making, we are beginning to look around the edges of production and reinvest the medium with the creativity it deserves. One such way is by looking at how dramatic interpretation (resulting in a renewed and active audience participation in interpretation) can revamp the medium. Concepts such as ‘beyond text’, death of the author (and yes, even ‘death of the subject’, at least in terms of camera focus) are all now in play in our creative experimentations.

The paradox of ‘death of the author’ became clear to me when watching Grey Gardens last night. Although I was involved and absorbed by the story of these two women, it became clear to me that I also had my own story to tell, one that reflected the setting of Grey Gardens, perhaps even some of its story. I questioned if the only story that any of us have to tell is our own? In blurring the relation between the writer and his characters, which am I? How transparent am I really then, in telling someone else’s story? What rings true for me in this case is that Grey Gardens moved me profoundly because I found my own story in it.

When I was 21 years old, I spent the summer living with a family in Chestnut Hill, a part of Philadelphia which was a 19th Century escape from the heat and disease of summer city dwelling. My roommate at Art College came from Chestnut Hill and took me to visit for a weekend at the end of spring term that year. We stayed for the whole summer.

The family in this case was Irish Catholic and, therefore, outsiders in Anglo-Saxon, upper-crust Chestnut Hill (in the 1920s locals burned down the only Catholic church in the area). The family’s two daughters were day students at Raven Hill, the same private school run by Catholic nuns that Grace Kelly (another upwardly-mobile Irish-Catholic Philadelphia family) attended.

The house was a huge Victorian pile with lots of rooms and a widow’s walk perched on top. It was painted shades of grey at the time and a bit dilapidated. The owners of the house and parents of the two Raven Hill girls, Anna and Charlie Meehan, were struggling financially. The house reflected this, with its former glory furnished with the Meehan's well worn fittings that had seen their day. There were lots of rooms, just like Grey Gardens, a big kitchen that surely servants had once laboured in, and floor to ceiling windows on the ground floor which opened onto a spacious verandah. A large standard poodle, Poley, bounded in and out of the door-like windows. Before the Meehans moved in, a small swimming pool had been added to the overgrown back garden, but was still useable.

The parties at the house were fantastic events and the girls had lots of college-aged friends who came around for them. Anna Meehan was ‘liberal’ in her permissiveness in terms of the girls’ behaviour, probably wrongly assuming that Catholic nuns had done their job and put enough of the fear of Jesus in them to keep them virginal. Charlie wasn’t around much because he was trying to get several failed or failing business back on track. Anna was director of a nursing home somewhere and seemed to provide the main source of income for the family. Their lifestyle was one of assume the position and it will follow you.

Anna had invented a background of Austrian Catholic roots and even given her daughters names of which the Von Trapp family would have approved. Adopted by a modest couple of Austrian lineage herself, Anna had used this fact to deny the truth that she was Irish Catholic by blood; this was only compounded by the other fact that Irish-American Charlie got her pregnant and so she ended up married to an Irishman after all.

After I had stayed a few weeks at the Meehan’s and feeling somewhat guilty as the long-term guest who had come to dinner, Charlie Meehan had a heart attack and died suddenly. The family was devastated. Anna, who had fought with Charlie constantly, was beside herself with the kind of grief only guilt can produce. Still, life must go on; the show must go on. This was a test of Anna’s will to survive all obstacles and she rose to the occasion. I offered to pay rent to stay at the house for the summer, and Anna agreed (quietly and in private, of course). After a lavish funeral and a week or two of mourning, the parties resumed. It was summer after all and the girls were teenagers. It made sense to carry on and show Chestnut Hill what they were made of.

It was my Grey Gardens summer. The house itself with it many rooms, many pretenses, its peeling paint and systems in need of repair was like the film Grey Gardens in the early years, some time after the husband left and the money to support their lifestyle dried up. Anna was ‘Big Edie’ with her silver grey hair, sometimes tied up in a bun, other times falling around her shoulders, her lack of grooming and the comfort of a chenille robe, except when business called her away. Anna was full of ambition, full of unfulfilled promise, wanting what she never had for herself for her daughters, whilst at the same time keeping them in check by vetting the boys allowed through the front door. A summer consisting of parties and a funeral, all produced through the mirage of a warped sense of the upper class and its supposed expectations of the newly arrived. We all know, of course, the newly arrived are never really welcome.

For me, it was a summer of love, a devastating platonic love for a sixteen year old boy whose mother came after me with a butcher’s knife. Position and pretense coupled with a romantic youth had convinced me in my naïveté that anything was possible, even this. The hard lesson learned that summer was that this in not the case, and never would be. This was a summer of beginnings, and an end.

* In the film, Little Edie dreamily tells this to David and Albert Maysles.