Teenage Wasteland [BATMAN RETURNS]

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Published on 26 Jun 1992 in Featured Texts, Featured Texts, by jrosenbaum

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Shoot for the Contents

This essay film by the U.S.-based, French-educated Vietnamese writer and filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha (Naked Spaces: Living Is Round, Surname Viet Given Name Nam) approaches Chinese culture from an outsider’s position–or, more precisely, through a series of contrasted outsider positions and layered perspectives. Shoot for the Contents, whose title alludes to a Chinese guessing game, was motivated by Trinh’s desire to explore her Vietnamese roots (she plans to make a companion film about India, the other major influence on Vietnamese culture), but she’s more concerned with poetic evocation than journalistic information. This film may confound spectators looking for a thesis or the kind of false knowledge proffered by conventional documentaries; as usual, Trinh is interested in radically opposing the means by which documentaries generally claim to be authoritative. But the dispersed presentation–which makes use of video as well as 16-millimeter footage and consists largely of speculative conversations with filmmakers and diverse kinds of visual displacement–is provocative and compelling. Like Trinh’s other work, this could be described as the film of an accomplished and talented writer rather than the “writing” of a pure filmmaker, but it is no less commanding for that (1991). (Chicago Filmmakers, 1229 W. Belmont, Saturday, June 27, 7:30, 281-8788)

Published on 26 Jun 1992 in Featured Texts, by jrosenbaum

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Double Bind

Four independent shorts by women about mothers and daughters. All of them are original and well worth seeing, but I was especially struck by Anna Campion’s English documentary The Audition (1989), in which her famous filmmaking sister Jane auditions their mother, a former stage actress, for a small part in An Angel at My Table. Charting the subtle shifts in power and control between mother and daughter, this intimate family piece seems partly scripted and partly improvised, and the complicity of the participants makes it wholly convincing and riveting. Tracey Moffatt’s Australian Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy (1989) is a visually striking experimental piece about an aboriginal woman nursing her dying mother. Pam Tom’s Two Lies (1990), a U.S. film in black and white, focuses on the tensions between a Chinese American divorcee, who’s just undergone plastic surgery to make her eyes rounder, and her disaffected teenage daughter. Ngozi Onwurah’s English The Body Beautiful (1991) is a frank and suggestive reverie about the filmmaker herself (played by an actress), who’s the daughter of a mixed marriage, and her white mother (who plays herself). (Chicago Filmmakers, 1229 W. Belmont, Friday, June 26, 7:30, 281-8788)

Published on 26 Jun 1992 in Featured Texts, by jrosenbaum

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Cousin Bobby

A fascinating and highly moving documentary by Jonathan Demme about his cousin Robert Castle, whom he hadn’t seen for 30 years when he started making this film. A 60-year-old white Episcopal minister working in Harlem with a multiracial and multidenominational congregation, Castle is a passionately committed community organizer who started out in Jersey City and forged strong links with the Black Panthers and other radical organizations of the 60s and 70s. He comes across as something of a saint–unpretentious and unself-conscious, though by no means simple–and this unpreachy film, which also shows us a lot of Demme and his developing friendship with his cousin, is similarly direct and unaffected. Some of our questions about Castle’s peripatetic family life are left unanswered, and it’s not clear precisely where home movie is meant to shade off into political document, but such ambiguity carries a certain charm and conviction; at the end one simply feels grateful to have spent some time with these people (1991). (Music Box, Friday through Thursday, June 26 through July 2)

Published on 26 Jun 1992 in Featured Texts, by jrosenbaum

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