The Sister Complex is a film script written for captive audiences on Virgin America flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The forty minute length of the film is meant to correspond to the amount of time a traveler would have to watch their personal screen after take off on the approximately 50 minute long flight. Originally, when Shade Remelin and I wrote the script in 2008, we intended to pitch it to Richard Branson of the Virgin America Corporation in the hopes that he would produce the project. Unfortunately, due to our insufficient amount of contacts within the airline entertainment industry, our general lack of ambition, and the recession, the script will remain for now in its potential, speculative form.
The unrealized film refers to the wide-ranging, yet circumscribed features of air travel and, in particular, air travel between the two major airports of California: LAX and San Francisco International. There is no direct mention of flying and none of the characters enter an airport or board a plane. Rather, the circumstances of air travel are referred to obliquely in the following four modes:
The Spatial: The spaces of the airport and the airplane are invoked in many scenes. The claustrophobic bathroom, the moveable airplane bucket seat with its component electric parts, the aisle, the security checkpoint, the runway, the airline gate, and the cockpit all find their spatial analogues in sites on the ground. [Fig.1]
The Procedural: The choreographed activities the traveler must perform during his or her journey prescribe set dialogue and actions for our characters. These involve the dialogue between captain and passengers; the introductory and surface conversations between passengers who are strangers; the anticipatory erotics and false luxury of the reading material, drinks, pillows, and blankets offered on planes; the perceived threat of hijacking, the dynamics of eating prepackaged food on trays; and a whole set of what we might call bubble activities, that is, practices which attempt to negate the public sphere of the airplane via the establishment of hyper-individualizing boundaries.
The Kinesthetic: The lifting and tilting of the body through space during take off and landing, and perhaps most dramatically, during turbulence [Fig.2]; The intense compression and decompression of the cabin space; The intermittent humming of the engines and subsequent vibration of the body; The vertiginous aspect of attaining a bird’s eye view towards the ground; All of these aspects contribute to a kind of intensified experience of the plane as a piece of equipment.
The Psychological: Airplane travel is fraught with anticipation, anxiety, and relief that stems directly from leaving one context and arriving in another. This involves the excitement and letdown of seeing relatives, attending business meetings, and crossing over between work and leisure spaces. It also involves the paranoia of leaving the door unlocked and the gas on the stove on, or the possibility that one’s bags will get lost in transit. ￼ The Sister Complex inserts the experiential aspects of flying into a filmic narrative. And, insofar as the narrative is ultimately one of satisfying reconciliation in the resolution of minor conflicts, the film functions as an extended advertisement for Virgin America. Yet despite its pop context, The Sister Complex presents the more general possibility for unforeseen sororal aspects of our experience in alternative spheres of life. The title stems from the twin mega apartment complexes referred to in the film: The Park La Brea in Los Angeles and The Park Merced in San Francisco. These are high modernist megastructures with hundreds of units located at the center of their respective cities. The Park Merced was built ten years after the Park La Brea using the same blueprint, but without the input of the original architect. Similarly tenants in the two cities, unbeknownst to one another, live in identical units and have similar vantage points onto the other sections of their building and the grounds below. The plot of the film is fairly straightforward and mundane. It revolves around a middle-aged woman named Virginia who has come to Los Angeles to oversee the production of a commercial and other promotional material for her British company. She is new to the city and meets a variety of strangers: Her sublettor, Kalitta and Kalitta’s son, Dulles; Her co-workers, Ini and Kingfisher; and an unsavory nemesis: the untimely salesman, Tim. Through a variety of mix-ups, she travels through the city and ultimately to San Francisco via automobile in search of her dog, Nippon, whom she fears Tim has kidnapped from her. In the end, Tim turns out not to be the villain she had anticipated and the dog is safe in Los Angeles. The plot follows the worn out devices of conflict resolution found in sitcoms and television dramas. This is because we were interested in keeping the plot simple enough so that the viewers would pick up on the references to air- travel embedded in the scenes.
Ultimately, just as the Skymall add for a “puppy ramp” that allows a little dog to climb into one’s king-sized bed through a long, soft ramp stretching from the mattress to the floor like a steel staircase that stretches from the airplane entrance to the tarmac, the Sister Complex is an exercise in overdetermination. We have found that this is an underexplored aspect of experimental cinema. Why do we always think of our audiences in the tired, non-space of the movie-theater—a space that is becoming obsolete through the proliferation of small screen technologies and diminishing attention spans? The new film must take into account the increasingly disjunctive, mobile, and portable aspects of viewing. The Sister Complex both appeals to and parodies these conditions.