‘My Prairie Home’: Music and Transgender Identity in Film

The adjectives that come to mind when I think about how to describe the 2013 Canadian documentary film about singer/songwriter Rae Spoon are as numerous as they are complimentary. Beautiful. Gentle. Emotional. Quiet. Brave. In My Prairie Home, director Chelsea McMullan takes the viewer on the road with Spoon, as the transgender Canadian musician navigates the Canadian prairie by bus and performing in different towns and venues, communicating the message of honesty and artistry.

The 77 minute long documentary is unique in its presentation by way of effortlessly combining raw footage of Spoon travelling and performing live with choreographed and directed high quality music videos of Spoon’s songs. The transitions between the different types of footage are seamless, where each moment of real footage serves as an introductory background story behind many of Spoon’s songs and complimentary music videos, reminiscent of a movie musical format. Spoon is transgender, revealing a long struggle to conform to the male gender, and instead choosing to opt for a gender-neutral identity. Identifying with the pronoun of “they” and using their music as a platform to address the struggles of being transgender, Spoon describes their childhood as that of a time scarred by abuse and conservative Christian values. Spoon’s father is schizophrenic, and the cutoff that resulted from their volatile relationship serves as a point of tension throughout the documentary.

From the opening sequence of the film, where we see a view of the Canadian prairie from the inside of a moving bus, that shot has been rotated completely upside-down. This first moment of altered viewing gives us insight into the strange reality of Spoon’s unique life and persona. Whether it is through the story of struggling with gender identity, a traumatic upbringing and broken family, first love, and the journey to become a working musician and artist, we gain understanding of Spoon’s motivations. The songs and score of the film are all composed and performed by Spoon, and the viewer is given a full dose of their talent, whose musical style is reminiscent of fellow Canadian and openly gay indie rockers Tegan and Sara.

There are visually stunning aspects to this film as well, which really caught my attention because we are not only given an auditory treat through hearing Spoon’s story through their music, but we are also shown their world through their eyes. This task is accomplished through expansive high definition shots of multiple Canadian landscapes and beautiful shots of nature. The overarching mood of the film is reflective, where we observe the quiet of the road while sitting next to Spoon on the bus, or go through the somber notes of her past with stories Spoon narrates about her dreams and imaginative memories as a child. I loved My Prairie Home because of its messages of the importance of self- expression through music and art, and the power of acceptance and bravery in the face of adversity and trauma.

Roxi Nobari

My Prairie Home can be seen at San Jose’s Cinequest film festival at Camera 12 on Mar 5th at 7:00pm, Mar 8th at 2:00pm, and Mar 11th at 7:15pm. For more information, visit www.cinequest.org. 

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