Sunday, July 30, 2017

Review - Privilege (1990)

Yvonne Rainer's wonderfully discursive docu-fiction from 1990 begins with a narrow focus, then opens outward, accruing one weighty subject after another until it constitutes nothing less than a panorama of Western male oppression. It starts simply enough, with Rainer conducting real interviews with middle-aged female friends about their experiences during and after menopause. Soon, however, a fictional character also named Yvonne (Novella Nelson) replaces Rainer as interrogator, and sits down with Jenny (Alice Spivak), a former dancer who recalls her earliest days in 1960's New York City and her colorful neighbors (among them, a quarrelsome Puerto Rican couple and an irreverent lesbian). These characters, their back stories, inner thoughts and interactions are then depicted as a film within the film (within the overall film) which incorporates a number of Godardian flourishes to flesh out their world views. They include monologues, onscreen text that function as a running commentary, miniature psychodramas acted out on partially dressed film sets, and in the finale, footage of the cast interacting out of character at a wrap party. Despite the fanciful staging and the breadth and gravity of the topics broached - from aging, patriarchy, and sexual violence to the historical and psychoanalytical origins of racism - Rainer's cinematic collage retains a personal warmth and intimacy. Like a sprawling, all-night conversation between friends, the point does not seem to necessarily be solving the problems at hand, but simply expressing sentiments that are not often expressed because of taboos, systematic indifference, or worse, outright suppression. The women who participate appear to unburden themselves even as they recite scripted dialogue, and when they laugh and roll around with one another (as Yvonne and Jenny do in a memorable scene), it feels very real, and well overdue.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Review - The Damned (1963)

Never mind reefer madness; young people are literally radioactive in Joseph Losey's clever, campy sci-fi drama, originally released in 1963. In a coastal English town, a vacationing American (Macdonald Carey), his young love interest (Shirley Anne Field) and her overbearing Teddy Boy brother (Oliver Reed) stumble upon a secret underground facility where a shady goverment official (Alexander Knox) is raising a group of children who are immune to nuclear radiation - and who radiate deadly gamma rays themselves. Unbeknownst to them, they're being bred to survive the all-but-inevitable nuclear holocaust and repopulate the Earth, that is, until the interlopers agree to help break them out. Shooting under the unrestrictive auspices of British film-mill Hammer, Losey brings his artful kitsch to life with all of the cinephilic relish of François Truffaut channelling Alfred Hitchock. He splashes the screen with joyful allusions to 'The Wild One'-esque biker flicks (motorcycle-bound delinquents), science fiction (men in Hazmat suits, black helicopters), and naturally, Hammer horror (a chilling point-of-view shot that tracks through the subterranean facility at night, ending up at a terrified little boy's bedside). Having had his own first-hand experience with overzealous government types, like those at the House Un-American Activities Committee who blacklisted him in the 1950's, Losey also infuses his genre romp with a decidedly personal angst. Cold-War paranoia looms large; it's antidotes, he posits, are the fearless vitality of youth (the captive children) and the introspective pursuits of the artist (Viveca Lindfors' philosophical sculptor).

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Review - Profit motive and the whispering wind (2007)

An antidote to the mindlessly patriotic summer blockbuster de l'année (of the current year and all others), John Gianvito's meditative documentary considers the dark side of America's short but tumultuous history. Deceptively simple in form, it's a series of still shots of grave markers, memorials and commemorative signs scattered across the U.S., each devoted to an individual or individuals who pledged their lives to a resistance movement. Sites dedicated to the diverse likes of Crazy Horse, Thomas Paine, Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony are surveyed, along with various other activists, organizers and artists that range from the totally obscure to household names. Interspersed in between are curiously unexplained images of green landscapes, brought to life by an ever-present breeze. The effect of Gianvito's elliptical, almost Straubian montage is three-fold: first, true to his pedagogical background (as a professor and scholar), he encourages the viewer to learn more about the lesser-known figures that are invoked. Secondly, by organizing his subjects by chronology and not by specific cause, he conflates their missions. Unionism, the abolition of slavery, woman's suffrage and civil rights are all posed as part of a greater struggle against exploitation, one that he makes clear is part and parcel of the American experiment. Lastly, the steady, rhythmic editing - coupled with the incessant rustle of wind alluded to in the film's title - lulls the viewer into a mild hypnosis, an ideal state in which to process the alternative history that is presented, and the jolting finale that links it to the present day in stirring fashion.