Chicago's most powerful Jewish doyenne channels Katharine Hepburn to punish her adult child's insolence, and win back their loyalty, in this experimental short film.
Eleanor of Illinois stars stage legend and four-time Tony nominee Judy Kuhn, known for her starring roles in the original Broadway casts of Les Miserables, Chess, and Fun Home, as well as her seminal turn as the singing voice of Pocahontas in the Disney film Pocahontas.
I grew up watching The Lion In Winter on a loop. In it, England’s medieval royal family meets over Christmas to plot with/against one another, test loyalties, engage in ritual, express love, and enact revenge over past wrongdoings. The film, particularly Katharine Hepburn’s performance as Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, became a vehicle for me to process the emotional, class, and power dynamics of my own family. Like Queen Eleanor’s children, I grew up in a dynasty, albeit an American Jewish one whose money and influence came from the frozen dessert business. Despite the very real differences between Eleanor of Aquitaine’s clan and my own, so much in The Lion In Winter resonates with my lived experience of familial control, obligation, and conflict.
Eleanor of Illinois is the finale of the video art series Bounty, my exploration of the psychological contours of wealthy American Jewish families, like mine. For this piece, I spent over a year culling existing phrases from Hepburn’s performance and crafting new words by combining sounds she utters in The Lion In Winter, ultimately creating the monologue of a contemporary, disappointed Jewish mother in her voice. In her performance as Eleanor of Illinois, Judy Kuhn speaks in rhythm with Hepburn’s monologue, simultaneously presenting a privileged Jewish woman and Queen Eleanor’s regal essence. Eleanor of Illinois is a meditation on what hard-won financial success has wrought, a passionate piece of experimental video art fan fiction, and an exploration of how the Lion in Winter and films like it employ extreme wealth to heighten and dramatize the dynamics of normal family dysfunction.