Remarkably packed with ideas and impressions for a short docu, “A Fine State This Is” manages to be several things at once. First, it is a portrait of artist Deborah Fargo Whitman, who has “dissociative personality disorder” (formerly called “multiple personality disorder”). Pic’s also a model of how to avoid a maudlin tone in examining a person with ailments, as story upends the usual expectations about split personality phenomena. Unusual docu’s only problem is excessive brevity rather than length. Though the subject warrants a feature-length running time, short pic is set for extensive fest exposure and quality tube broadcasts.
Preface gives helpful introduction on Whitman’s condition and its roots in child abuse. Following that, “A Fine State” plunges into the deep end of the artist’s complex world. In the early minutes, Whitman appears to be performing for director Jessica Chandler’s camera, as Whitman allows her various personae to freely surface and vanish, with some — such as the young Genie — more willing to talk to the lens than others.
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Chandler, with the crafty help of editor Greg Magnuson, gradually reveals aspects of Whitman’s life out of the standard biographical sequence. Her upbringing is shown through a series of photos. Just as matter-of-factly, archival images and minimal voiceover commentary relate her fast-rising career as an artist (specializing in Constructivist-style sculptures and interactive pieces). The film doesn’t detail how Whitman’s personal difficulties impeded on her career, but it does show how prolific Whitman continues to be as an artist.
Undoubtedly resulting from a simpatico between filmmaker and subject, Whitman is so relaxed that her alter-egos take full flight — Genie, 18-year-old Anton, 28-year-old neatnik Meticulous, and others such as Gibbon and Wiley. The first reaction to the revelation of the countless number of personalities is likely to be something between shock and horror; but one of the marvelous qualities of “A Fine State This Is” is how this initial response is dissolved by Whitman herself, clearly stating and demonstrating how she is comfortably thriving with her menagerie of shifting inner selves.
Vid production package is sharp, with lenser Robert Richman’s highly mobile camera able to keep up with the ever-active Whitman.