With hair cropped in a flattop circa 1952, business-suit attire from the same era, and songs like "I Enjoy Being a Girl" and "Female Mud Wrestling" in her catalog, Phranc can be both overly earnest and subtly satiric -- precisely the characteristics that make her such a fascinating study, says Lifetime Guarantee director Lisa Udelson.
An icon within certain circles, "Phranc's kind of a chameleon," Udelson explains. "She's always changing her persona and always in such an interesting way. [Selling Tupperware] is a funny twist, but it makes perfect sense that she would do something like this."
Udelson shot and edited the hour-long documentary, which chronicles Phranc's career move from performing (she regularly toured with Morrissey in the '90s) to hawking containers. "[Selling Tupperware] gives her a built-in venue for performing," Udelson explains. "A good salesperson is a good performer."
Lifetime Guarantee opens the 26th Cleveland International Film Festival on Thursday, March 14. Udelson, a Cleveland native, will be in attendance. The film is alternately funny (Phranc, with guitar in hand, hosts parties as if they were mini-jamborees) and heartbreaking (she's inadvertently snubbed at the annual Tupperware convention by the event's organizers).
Yet the fact that she is a folksinging lesbian is rarely a factor in Phranc's foray into sealable plastic. "Tupperware ladies just have this common love of Tupperware," Udelson says. "I was with Phranc a year, and I never saw any kind of prejudice against her. In fact, it was just the opposite. They welcomed her with open arms. They are some of the most amazing women I have ever spent any time with."
Udelson, a Los Angeles resident and film-festival regular, sees Phranc's tale, in a way, as a customary American one. "In an unconventional way, she's very conventional," she explains. "She's got a partner and two kids and lives very traditionally.
"I realized early on that I had a much bigger story than her entertaining Tupperware parties. I became so enthralled with her as a person that I was pushing for [the film] to become a biography, but it just didn't want to be that. It became focused on this particular element, but many other aspects came through." Such as the ever-elusive Jewish folksinging lesbian one.
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