I started this film after a period of loss in my family: over the span of three years, half a dozen family members and friends died from a range of illnesses and circumstances. I had had little interaction with death up until this point, so I found myself attending more funerals than ever before.
The first of these funerals was for Marj Bagley, my grandmother and the subject of this film. This was a particularly hard loss, because I had grown up with my grandmother and I was far closer with her than most of my friends had been with their grandparents. She could be a strange lady: sweet one moment and furious the next over some pet peeve. So, I was expecting some bizarre stories to surface at her funeral. But, instead of cute memories, I remember feeling a much larger disconnect: how people remembered Marj was very different from how she actually liked to think of herself. The ones eulogizing were continually projecting meaning onto her, regardless of whether she would’ve approved. I found that this held true at other funerals. The deceased’s family and friends weren’t really talking about the deceased -- but instead talking about their own ideals and values. They were talking about how they hoped to be remembered in relation. This inspired me to do a piece on collective memory and loss, and how subjectivity may prevent us from truly knowing those we love.
Over the course of one year, I created this documentary with a tiny crew: builder/animator Bec Sloane and editor/gaffer Jorge Arzac. It was truly a DIY production. Everything was filmed in the living room of a small New York apartment, using a desk and an old IKEA bed for rigging. The puppets and sets were made from repurposed clothes and textiles worn by the family or from donated sources. Car scenes were accomplished frame-for-frame by rear-projecting Marj’s own home films as a backdrop. Even the foley design was conducted on location during trips back to Michigan, with Marj’s family recreating their own sound effects. In post, my brother William Stanton (seen in the film) wrote the music, scoring some of the very memories we had talked about at Marj's funeral years ago. Some of this was kept small in order to be cost effective, but above all we wanted to set an intimate mood -- as if you were observing Marj and her family in their living room.
This documentary is not meant to be a comprehensive study of a woman’s life. Like the eulogies that inspired me, it’s really more about her family then it is about Marj. But I hope audience members come away with a sense of who Marj was - not a literal description of her life, but an emotional retelling. And, in a way, I hope that’s a more effective way to remember than any single story or detail.
- Taylor Stanton