LOS ANGELES — Award-winning director Sally Potter has challenged British society throughout her 50-year career, in films like “Orlando,” “The Party,” and “Ginger and Rosa.” Now, at 73, Potter’s creative resolve forges on with her first studio album, “Pink Bikini.”
The LP, self-released Friday, is a semi-autobiographical collection of alternative tracks that detail Potter’s adolescence in 1960s London.
Across 12 songs, the filmmaker revisits tumultuous relationships and oppressive social strictures.
“There’s something very life-affirming about working in another medium, learning a new skill or making a change at what was considered to be a point in one’s life where you’re supposed to know exactly who you are and what you’re going to do,” Potter told The Associated Press.
Potter found lyrical inspiration in notebooks she filled with poems over her lifetime. Coincidentally, the songs on “Pink Bikini” deal with a variety of different subjects, including frustration with beauty standards (“Ginger Curls”), a “ban the bomb” march (“Black and White Badge”), and female authorship (“Ghosts”), delivered atop minor keys and alluring instrumentals.
“Some people say I have a rhyming gene,” Potter says.
The AP spoke to Potter about making the move from movies to music. Answers are edited for clarity and brevity.
AP: Your background is interdisciplinary; you’ve co-composed or curated music in your films. But when did this album begin for you?
POTTER: It’s quite a mystery to me, actually. Why now? Why this? I think I felt a very strong desire to work with the apparent simplicity of the song form. After making big films that always involve vast numbers of people and a lot of money ... the appeal of the short form is so enduring and so emotionally rich and so direct and so intimate.
AP: What was it like revisiting your adolescence on this album, at this stage in your life?
POTTER: I’m not sure she’s ever left me, actually. I’m not sure that any of our young selves ever leave us. But revisiting those memories is such a strange thing, and that’s one of the things that the songs (are) about: Am I remembering this? Or am I remembering a photograph of this? And then in the act of telling the story, because each of the songs is a small story, one begins to kind of rewrite history.
AP: How do gender dynamics influence your songs?
POTTER: I chose these teenage years because (it is) the moment of intense crisis around gender identification, when you first start noticing that you’re being treated according to the sex you were born. If I just speak about myself, and my generation of girls, as we were moving into puberty as a time of great loss, loss of freedom, dynamism ... all of a sudden (you’re) having to think what impression you’re making and the restrictions of being a female. At the same time, it’s an incredible kind of growth, seething with hormones, feelings, confusion, trauma, intensity, and finding out very many things about yourself in the world. It’s a very brilliant, intense period to write about.
AP: On “Pink Bikini,” are you exploring what it means to be like a woman reclaiming artistry?
POTTER: I would say not so much reclaiming as carrying on regardless of whether people want to or not.
AP: Songs like “Ginger Curls,” “Pink Bikini” and “Hymn” are intertwined with a feeling of shame. Does shame intersect with your sense of femininity?
POTTER: I think young girls learn to feel shame. (Even) before social media, we had a very problematic relationship with the body, where it’s a double message. You’re supposed to display (yourself) on the one hand, and be proud of it, on the other hand, you’re supposed to hide it. Because if you display it too much, you’re a slut. And if you hide it too much, you’re frigid. That was very much a kind of sixties and seventies thing — those impossible, contradictory demands of all women.
“Hymn” is a fight back against religious oppression. It’s a fight back against shame. A show of love between people of the same sex. That was more the feeling of all of the songs actually, about this oppression that suddenly arrives.
AP: You bring up nuclear warfare in “Black and White Badge.” Your films also talk about this period and political dissidence. How was it exploring your life and those feelings in music compared to in film?
POTTER: In film, you can tell the story in a more rounded way through characters, put words in people’s mouths, set up the situation, and get lots of visuals. In a song, it’s evocative in a distilled way, an era with simple language. I thought, “How can I write about something that was so important to me — climate change, the threat of an apocalypse essentially — and not to make it too heavy?” I wanted to lighten it. I sang in a fairly undramatized way. You can be a 12-year-old girl on a march — militant against the very existence of nuclear weapons on the one hand — and on the other hand, worry about not being looking cool enough. There’s a bit of humor in the midst of fear of the apocalypse, the ultimate terror.
AP: Are there questions from your ‘60s childhood that you think are relevant in 2023?
POTTER: One can’t mention climate change too many times because I think the fear of everything ending — what’s bigger than that? There is nothing bigger than that. It’s paralyzing.
The Cuban Missile Crisis, which (happened) when I was 11, looked very close to being World War III. I think (this generation’s) feeling of crisis is similar to then. Confusions around sexuality ... and domestic life. There are so many things in common, and those are the simple things.