Way Behind the Music

Emily Goldberg’s childhood memories of the Twin Cities are profoundly blurry. Literally. Growing up on Long Island, she traveled regularly to Minneapolis with her family to visit Dr. Irving Shapiro, a friend of the family and an ophthalmologist. The Goldbergs would get their eyes checked by Dr. Shapiro. Goldberg remembers the doctor’s dilating drops; they gave her a somewhat hallucinogenic idea of what the place looked like.

“Maybe Irv’s magic drops are why I moved here,” said Goldberg the other day. “I knew New York, Chicago, and Boston—but despite my time in Minnesota, I had no idea what the place looked like. It was almost like I had to move here.” And she’s never left.

In the intervening years, Goldberg became a documentary filmmaker, with an international reputation for her unique vision. The loudest hosannas have come for her most recent work, Venus of Mars. A documentary about the Minneapolis glam-rock band All the Pretty Horses, it debuted last November at the Amsterdam International Film Festival. That was followed by noted appearances in Greece, Romania, and Spain. Later this month, it will screen in New Zealand.

Goldberg earned her chops as a producer at Twin Cities Public Television. She thought it would take about eighteen months to make Venus. When she finished, it was almost four years later. “If I knew then how long it would take, I might not have done it,” she said. She is not a natural self-promoter; sitting in her Lowry Hill apartment, the most she would say about herself was that “people have always told me I’m a good listener.”

Venus partly follows the typical pattern of a Behind the Music episode, asking the straightforward question, “Will this particular band make it?” But the focus of the film is the band’s singer, Steve Grandell, and his wife, Lynette Reini-Grandell. They were high school sweethearts from Duluth who’ve now been married more than twenty years. Grandell was part of the Rifle Sport artist collective in the 1980s when he tied the knot with Reini. Today, she is a tenured English professor at Normandale Community College who also hosts KFAI’s “Write On Radio,” an author interview show.
Here’s where the story gets tricky: Five years into their relationship, Grandell told his wife he wanted a sex change. The evolution of Steve, Lynette, their marriage, and the band was gradual, and took place years before Goldberg began filming. At various points along the way, Grandell decided he didn’t want “the operation,” but wanted to grow breasts by taking hormones. By the time the film begins, he has adopted the name “Venus,” and the hormone pills have done their work.

Goldberg doesn’t sensationalize the story, and what emerges aren’t easy answers about the world of transgenderism, but hard questions about how any couple makes it over the long haul. Goldberg’s success is in showing that the hardest parts of the relationship aren’t the more spectacular differences between Lynette and Venus, but the usual frictions that plague even the most normal relationships. “Money,” Lynette says in the film, is what she and Venus fight about most.

But as a heterosexual married to a transgendered person—someone literally living between two sexes—wasn’t Professor Reini-Grandell afraid of being diced on film? “We felt Emily’s empathy the moment she started filming,” Lynette said.

Last year, Goldberg was walking the streets of Manhattan when she had a fleeting thought. “Why don’t I live here? Isn’t this where it’s happening?” Then she came to her senses. “If I’m in New York and Irv Shapiro is in Minneapolis,” she said, laughing, “I wouldn’t know where to get my eyes checked.”—Neal Karlen