Did you know that Isabella Rossellini was getting a master’s degree in animal behavior and conservation at Hunter College? Can you imagine being some shlubby student at Hunter, walking into your biology class, and there is Isabella Rossellini? I would plotz.
She has always been interested in animals and insects and has done a series of very short films (some of them less than two minutes long) for the Sundance Channel. The film project is called *Green Porno*, and she has turned it into a lecture and performance, which she did at the Fisher Center at BAM (the same place where I saw that computer-generated *Hamlet*).
She is SO ADORABLE. Well yes, she’s also drop dead gorgeous, but the overall impression is adorable. She’s 62 now, and a little plump, which only adds to her allure. She was wearing a black frock coat over pants, a sublime cut, and a triple strand of fat pearls (I wonder if they were real). She has that cute short black pixie haircut. Her Italian accent is bewitching. She has wit and charm. These are qualities I would like to cultivate.
The show consisted of her telling stories about sex in the natural world, and showing the short films. A few highlights:
She told us about how a certain kind of fish sprays his sperm into the mouth of the female fish, and she demonstrated with a spray gun that shot out green plastic fizzy stuff. She wiped it off her face, but a short strand of it stayed in her hair, and sat there (glaring at me) for the next hour.
The starfish reproduces by lopping off one of its legs. That leg then becomes a starfish, and the original starfish grows a replacement leg. She showed a film of Isabella dressed like a starfish - - she loses a leg, and this becomes a second Isabella starfish. She loses a second leg, and it becomes a third Isabella starfish. She said (of course I’m paraphrasing), “This is a very appealing idea to a woman of my generation. I can be here doing this lecture, and another Isabella can be home with my children, and a third can be having an affair with a handsome young man, and a fourth can be having dinner with my girlfriends.”
She showed a film in which she plays a hamster, in the cutest borgana hamster costume. By the way, she co-wrote the scripts for these films (and for the lecture) with Jean-Claude Carrière, the screenwriter of *The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie*, *Belle de Jour*, that creepy Nicole Kidman movie *Birth*, and lots of other wonderful things. Here’s the film about the hamster:
“Oh! What’s happening! I think I’m having a baby! Oh! Two babies! Three babies! Four, five, six, seven, eight babies! Who knew I could have so many babies. Look at this one - - it has very long legs, it will be able to run very fast. And this one - - she has large ears, she’ll be able to hear a predator when it comes close. But this one, it’s so small and feeble looking. Hm.” And she eats it. “This one - - also not very remarkable.” And she eats it.
You might know that her parents are the actress Ingrid Bergman and the director Roberto Rossellini. She told a story about going on an interview with her father when she was a girl. The interviewer asked him, “What sort of father are you?” He said, “I am a Jewish mother.” She told a sweet story that started with her mother and led to a duck.
“My mother always advised me to be gracious and kind to members of the press. I’ve been doing interviews about this project, and often the interviewer asks me the question, ‘What animal do you relate to?’ This is really a ridiculous question. I suppose they ask me this because they see me as an actress - - they wouldn’t ask a serious scientist such a stupid question. But I think of my mother, and I say something about how it’s the great variety that I find so interesting, the incredible diversity of sexual behavior. There’s not one particular animal that I find more compelling than the others.
“But then I learned about the duck. The female is gang-raped by a group of male ducks. But she chooses the one she wants to be father of her babies, by using her labyrinthine vagina. If a male mounts her and she does not like him, she guides his penis into a dead end. If she does like the male, then she guides his penis to the place where she has her eggs.”