Monthly Archives: November 2020

“WHITE RIOT”— Rock Against Racism

“WHITE RIOT”

Rock Against Racism

Amos Lassen

 Rubikah Shah’s “White Riot” looks at Rock Against Racism movement and tales us through its history. We understand RAR members’ motivation for starting the organization in ways that makes it relevant. We trace the movement’s rise from a fanzine to its organization of an all-star gig in Victoria Park that featured X-Ray Spex, Steel Pulse, The Clash and the Tom Robinson Band. We see the concert not only capturing political schisms at the heart of punk, but common British attitudes of the time.

Through interviews with RAR staff and musicians we get a look at the era that brought about the rise of RAR. Support, whether aesthetic or ideological, of the far right is questioned here, with the hesitance of Sham 69’s Jimmy Pursey stand that might alienate right-leaning fans a source of dramatic conflict.

The film makes its points with clarity giving us a viewing experience that’s both energetic and a call to action. We see how a group of punk rock loving folks took a stance against the anti-immigrant nationalist wave that threatened to flood the United Kingdom. 

RAR founder Red Saunders states early on in the film that the late 1970s were volatile in UK. The economy was ruined and those suffering the most were looking for someone to blame. It was the perfect time for the far-right political party National Front to lay the groundwork for racial division. 

Fueled by the anti-immigrant sentiment coming from members of parliament such as Enoch Powell, the National Front frequently pushed their “we’ll put white people first” rhetoric in the media. They sold their far-right papers in front of schools, and worked the streets recruiting youth from struggling working-class families. However, it was musicians such as David Bowie, Rod Stewart and Eric Clapton who aligned themselves with fascist views that allowed hatred to take place. Clapton even went as far as openly asking fans at his 1976 Birmingham concert to vote for Powell.

Seeing Clapton promoting a white nationalist agenda while having a successful career based on music that came out of Black culture was hypocritic soSaunders decided to create Rock Against Racism to organize the “rank and file against the racist poison in music.” It began with a small team that included typesetter Roger “Dub” Huddle, office manager Irate Kate, photographer Syd Tune and graphic designer Ruth “Pink Heart” Gregory. The group turned their love of music into grassroots action and began publishing the music magazine “Temporary Hoarding” to speak against racism and organized local concerts that featured Black and white musicians on the lineup together.

Rock Against Racism embraced diversity, regardless of whether it occurred in a magazine or at a punk show and was vital to dismantling bigotry and xenophobia. The racism of the UK at the time was predominantly a white problem. Immigrants and people of color may have been burdened with it, facing countless acts of violence and frequent police harassment, but it was white people who needed to be part of the solution and not just the cause. This is what Saunders and his fellow RAR members knew from the outset. 

The film not draws parallels to what was occurring in the UK with the apartheid era in South Africa and also touches on the tools and systems that allow racism to thrive today. We see that the media is frequently complicit in giving those who hark in anti-immigrant speech a platform and it is a rite of passage that is not available to those who espouse anti-white doctrines. 

“White Riot” is a reminder that individuals, and not governments officials, are the real instruments for change. Shah’s film reinforces the importance of putting aside one’s own uneasiness for a much bigger cause. 

Rock Against Racism used its platform to bring attention to anti-immigrant politics, question conventional views of sexuality and challenged musicians who used fascism as a tool for financial gains and while it may have existed on the fringes, it achieved more through its underground creativity than could have been thought. 

The film is filled with energy bringing together music, politics, animation, interviews and history and it will please those unfamiliar with the punk scene and those looking for stories of average people challenging the status quo.

Shah’s film stresses the power that is within each individual to evoke change. Music may have been the vessel here but it was the message of being vigilant against racism that united them all. It just takes a few individuals willing to rise to the challenge for others to follow.

“RAINING IN THE MOUNTAIN”— A Power Struggle

 “Raining in the Mountain”

A Power Struggle

Amos Lassen

Set in a remote Buddhist monastery in 16th Century China, “Raining in the Mountain” is about a power struggle that ensues when Tripitaki, the Abbot of the Three Treasures Temple announces his retirement. He invites three outsiders to advise him on the critical choice of appointing his successor: Esquire Wen, a wealthy patron of the monastery, General Wang, commander-in-chief of the local military, and Wu Wai, a respected lay Buddhist master. Within the monastery, there are several disciples who aspire to the position of Abbot and they begin to collude individually with Esquire Wen and General Wang. However, t these two invited advisers have come with seditious intent, scheming to obtain the priceless scroll housed in the monastery: to get the scriptural text of “The Mahayana Sutra, ” hand-copied by Tripitaka. Meanwhile, convicted criminal Chiu Ming has arrived at the monastery to atone as a monk. He is assigned to guard the scroll at the house of scriptures, and encounters thieving rivals White Fox who poses as Esquire Wen’s concubine and General Wang’s fearsome Lieutenant Chang, who originally framed Chiu Ming for the crime he did not commit.

The scroll is stored at the Three Treasures Temple, whose abbot is retiring, and has asked Esquire Wen (Suen Yuet) to help him choose a successor. Coveting the scroll, Wen has two plans – firstly, the abbot’s second disciple Hui Wan (Lu Chan) has agreed to give it to him if chosen, but the woman he introduces as his concubine is actually White Fox (Hsu Feng), a master thief. Wen isn’t the only friend advising the abbot, though – General Wang Chi (Feng Tien) seems to have a similar deal with first disciple Hui Tung (Shih Jun), and his aide Chang Chen is a former policeman who once arrested White Fox. Then there’s lay expert Wu Wai (Wu Chia-hsiang), who travels with an entourage of beautiful women, and convict Chiu Ming (Tung Lam), who has paid a special fine to enter the monastery and become a monk at just this time.

The opening of King Hu’s film tracks a party of three on a journey through a range of natural landscapes and weathers. Their determined progression makes them look like pilgrims – an impression which appears to be confirmed by their destination of the ‘Three Treasures’ temple in Ming Dynasty China (the Bulguksa temple complex in South Korea was used as the film’s shooting location).

Even after they have reached the outer gates, their journey is far from over, as they are slowly escorted by the monk Hui Ssu (Paul Chin Pei) through the vast precinct and introduced into the otherworldly serenity of the monastery’s environs. This prologue is a kind of initiation.

To enter this holy place is also to corrupt it, and “Raining in the Mountain” is about this interpenetration and the transcendental, in a transient world where everything is always in motion. The ‘three treasures’ on which the temple was founded and for which it was named – “the Buddha, the Dharma and the Samgha [the monastic community]” are decidedly of a spiritual rather worldly kind, but locked away in the temple’s Scripture Hall is a fourth treasure: the transcription of the Mahayana Sutra said to have been handwritten by the famous Tang Dynasty monk Xuanzang (Tripitaka) himself.

The shifting value of the scroll is one of the film’s central themes. The district’s governor General Wang (Tien Feng) also considers it “a priceless treasure”, and also hopes to steal it via the underhanded operation of his lieutenant, the law officer (and ex-con) Chang Cheng (Chen Hui-lou). Yet even though White Fox scorns the monastery’s simple food, and deems the temple a “dump”, she considers the sutra nothing more than a “ragged old scroll”.

This perspective which brings her into an unexpected alignment with the monastery’s wise old Abbot (Kim Chang-Gean) and with the Abbot’s equally wise lay advisor Master Wu Wai (Wu Chia-hsiang), who comments, “The old scroll has no real value.”

the Abbot has invited representatives of worldly wealth and power, to assist him in choosing a successor. Asked by Wu Wai if he has any criteria, the Abbot responds: “I have none. It doesn’t matter whether he is a monk or a layman, so long as he is enlightened.” That last proviso, of course, is harder to fulfil than it sounds.

“Raining in the Mountain” is more about content than form and places “true value” in a text’s meaning rather than in its materiality.

 

“I’M MOSHANTY. DO YOU LOVE ME?”— A NEW DOCUMENTARY

“I’m Moshanty. Do You Love Me?”

A New Documentary

Amos Lassen

One of the world’s most dangerous places to be a woman is Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Because of violence and discrimination, transgender persons are usually homeless, unemployed, denied education and medical care and they live under a great possible threat of robbery and murder.

However, there is one transgender woman who is loved by nearly every there and she is The recording artist and legendary entertainer Moses Moshanty Tau who is a national hero and a beacon to the transgender community of the entire South Pacific. This movie was filmed over a weekend in the fall of 2017 and including her last live performances.

It is both an introduction and a musical tribute to the career of “the transgender activist with a mother’s heart, teeth of gold and the voice of a coronet.” We hear her journey from a tiny village to a mis-gendered public figure at the top of the South Pacific music industry. In her final interview, Moshanty shares her personal truth and her life with us

“MISCONCEPTIONS”— A  Look at Surrogacy

“MISCONCEPTIONS”

A  Look at Surrogacy

Amos Lassen

In “Misconceptions”, a religiously conservative woman receives a message from God telling her to act as a surrogate mother and carry a child for a couple of married gay men, a doctor and an African-American choreographer in Boston.

Dogma and drama come together with compassion that is gracefully balanced. Highlighting diversity, this is a powerful film that shows that in order to survive
we must learn, respect, and allow
the differing of views, of nations, and understand that by not doing so, there is little hope.

The characters are real and their relationships are very deep. We see character growth and actual issues that can occur in marriages.

While the main characters are gay, this film is not about being gay. The story, the acting and the direction are sensitive and moving leaving us in tears when it is over. Here is a look at the differences between a Southern religious family and a sophisticated gay couple from Boston. We are taken into the worlds of philosophical, sociological and legal entanglements that result from scientific discoveries and create new and different life situations.

 

“WELCOME TO THE CIRCLE”— A Cult Film

“WELCOME TO THE CIRCLE”

A Cult Film

Amos Lassen

David Fowler’s “Welcome to the Circle is an excellent cult film that takes down the viewer’s grip on reality. The words,  “Welcome to the circle” recur throughout the film and  are addressed to anybody finding their way into an isolated woodland community whose few residents – Rebekah (Cindy Busby), Lotus Cloud (Heather Doerksen), Sky (Andrea Brooks) and Mathew (Michael Rogers) – are clearly members of a cult.

After their tent is attacked during the night by what appears to be a bear, the injured Greg (Matthew MacCaull) and his young daughter Samantha (Taylor Dianne Robinson) end up being welcomed to the Circle but Greg is quick to pick up on the place’s strangeness and worries for his daughter’s safety. The warning signs are everywhere but leaving the Circle will prove a lot harder than entering it.

Greg’s panicky efforts to escape lead to a different story in which former Circle member Grady (Ben Cotton) leads an attempt to infiltrate the Circle and rescue Rebekah for deprogramming. Helped by Rebekah’s husband James (Matt Bellefleur) and their friend Gabriella (Hilary Jardine), Grady returns to the place that he once fled to face the part of himself that he abandoned there.

This is not just a film about a cult; it also invites the viewer to be initiated into its own illogical mind. The film quickly releases its grip on reality as it confounds insider and outsider perspectives on a cult’s workings. We take a disorienting trip through locations that we are repeatedly told are a mere ‘façade’ (and whose interconnections make no sense), in search of meaning that cannot exist. This heady confusion represents something akin to the experience of being trapped in a cult, with no clue.

 

“TWO OF US” (‘Deux’)— Neighbors and Lovers

“TWO OF US” (‘Deux’)

Neighbors and Lovers

Amos Lassen

Nina (Barbara Sukowa) and Madeleine (Martine Chevallier) are neighbors who have been secret lovers for decades but then a sudden change pulls them apart in Filippo Meneghetti’s “Two of Us”.

There are many real-life cases in towns all over the world  where people in those communities are unaware that what passes for friendship is actually a long-term committed gay relationship. This film is a variation on that. It is a gentle love story and then takes a series of unpredictable turns as the clandestine life partners are separated by unfortunate circumstance. The story transitions from tender romance into extreme sorrow and incorporates mordant humor and unexpected quasi-thriller elements. It is a depiction of the sexual and emotional vitality of women at an age too often neutered or hidden on screen.

Set in an unnamed town in the South of France, the movie opens with two young girls playing hide and seek in the tree-lined park that runs along a river bank. Moving forward we see that Berlin transplant Nina and widowed grandmother Madeleine live on the top floor of an old apartment building, their flats facing each other across a small landing. Nina spends every night with Mado (as she affectionately calls her lover of many decades) and then discreetly slips back to her own place whenever visitors are expected. Mado is planning to sell up and relocate with Nina to Rome where they met in the 1960s.

But at a birthday dinner during which Mado plans to break the news to her divorced daughter Anne (Lea Drucker) and son Frederic (Jerome Varanfrain), she freezes up and is unable to tell them. Her adult children remain convinced that their late father was the love of Madeleine’s life. When Nina inadvertently learns of Mado’s hesitation through a chance encounter, she loses her temper on the street. She says that she’s tired of excuses and that the only person still uptight about a pair of old is Mado. But then Mado has a stoke.

The scenes that follow are shown almost entirely from Nina’s devastated point of view. Nina’s guilt over the anger she feels, eats away at her, while at the same time, she deals with the heartsickness of sudden separation. She sneaks around, monitoring the situation through the peephole in her door and using all she has to steal time with the woman she loves. This meant becoming involved in a battle of wills with Mado’s caregiver Muriel (Muriel Benazeraf), who’s not only threatened by Nina’s encroachment on her professional job, but she is also uncomfortable about the evidence of a loving relationship between the two women. hilarious.

The greater obstacle, however, is Anne who seems certain she has always been close enough with her mother to share everything. At first, Anne is grateful for Nina’s concern and her offers to help out with Mado’s care. But when the truth emerges, Anne goes into furious denial, followed by her brother, the hostile Frederic. Nina recklessly gets around their roadblocks but heroic as well.

 Sukowa and Chevallier bring to life an unforgettable lesbian couple whose sexual flame still burns and whose mutual devotion is thrilling.

Meneghetti knows precisely what to do with the camera, using tight close-ups to give us the full benefit of the central pair’s comfortable joy in each other’s gaze and complicity l. They know how lucky they are to have found each other. Something as basic as the way their feet move as they dance together says a great deal. The film touches on everything from keeping up appearances and family dynamics between parents and adult children to a critique of retirement homes. Nina and Mado’s loving intimacy is gorgeous. The ending is neither melodramatic nor mawkish and does not shy away from the fact that Nina and Mado’s best years are behind them. We watch them come to terms with living out their lives in love and dignity.

“SONG WITHOUT A NAME”— A Personal Look at Peru

“SONG WITHOUT A NAME”

A Personal Look at Peru

Amos Lassen

Director Melina León weaves events and references from throughout Peru’s tumultuous 1980s into a film that shows the era’s political and economic anxieties through a personal lens. In Song Without a Name”, we  follow Georgina and Leo, who move from the mountains to Lima to give their unborn child a better chance at life. Immediately after the child’s birth, however, the baby disappears and no authority in the city is interested in helping.

The film’s black-and-white visuals are its most striking quality. We get the viewpoints of each character and are totally immersed into their world and struggles.

Pamela Mendoza gives a haunting performance as Georgina and it emphasizes her almost complete solitude in the strange place. We watch has as she walks through Lima’s streets, exhausted by her pregnancy and then by the loss of her child and are reminded of the humanity that is lost in upheavals. As the journalist Pedro (Tommy Parraga) is a measured, sympathetic presence. .

 

 

Stonewalled by a byzantine and indifferent legal system, Georgina approaches Pedro Compos, who uncovers a web of fake clinics and abductions – suggesting a rotting corruption deep within Peruvian society. Set in 1988, Peru is amid political violence and turmoil.

The film has won 30 international awards including “Best Film” at the Lima Latin American Film Festival and “Best Film by an Emerging Director” at the Munich Film Festival, the festival favorite period piece has garnered raves around the world.  It is Peru’s entry for the 2020 Academy Awards.

It all begins when Georgina wakes up in the early hours of the morning to walk with her husband, Leo (Lucio Rojas), into Lima from their shack in a coastal shantytown on the outskirts of the city. Because she has few alternatives, her late-stage pregnancy doesn’t deter her as she sits in the street selling potatoes to passersby. When she hears a health clinic’s radio ad offering care to pregnant women, it sounds like a miracle. But once Georgina gives birth to her daughter, the clinic takes the child off for some supposed medical tests. In an instant, her life is upended.

 

 

The only person who lends Georgina a sympathetic ear is Pedro, who, as a gay man, understands what it means to be an outsider, though he initially tries to pass her story off to someone else, as he’s reporting on a paramilitary death squad whose handiwork he sees early in the film. Just when we think that León is going to take the film into conventional investigative thriller, it explores loss and pain on an intimate and personal scale. We  see this through the despair on people’s faces and through the formal touches that reflect it.

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The characters have to move on from the kidnapping without truly wanting to because they need to eat and pay rent. We see Georgina’s devastation in one long take where the mother is taken out of the clinic but continues pleading and crying, unseen, from the other side of the door. She is determined not to go away, and the scene fades to black with painful slowness and she seems to be prolonging the transition through force of will.

 

 

BONUS FEATURES

 

·       Video Introduction by director Melina León

·       Bonus Short Film — Sin Cielo (Directed by Jianna Maarten Saada | United States | Spanish with English subtitles | 25 minutes) — Teens pursue love in a Mexican border town where violence may be inescapable.

  

PROGRAM INFORMATION

 

Type: DVD/Digital (iTunes, Amazon, Vudu)

Running Time: 103 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Screen

Audio: 5.1 Surround Sound/2.0 Stereo

Language: Spanish and Quechua with English subtitles

 

About Film Movement

 

Founded in 2002, Film Movement is a North American distributor of award-winning independent and foreign films based in New York City. It has released more than 250 feature films and shorts culled from prestigious film festivals worldwide including the Oscar-nominated films Theeb (2016) and Corpus Christi (2020). Film Movement’s theatrical releases include American independent films, documentaries, and foreign art house titles. Its catalog includes titles by directors such as Hirokazu Kore-eda, Maren Ade, Jessica Hausner, Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrzej Wajda, Diane Kurys, Ciro Guerra and Melanie Laurent. In 2015, Film Movement launched its reissue label Film Movement Classics, featuring new restorations released theatrically as well as on Blu-ray and DVD, including films by such noted directors as Eric Rohmer, Peter Greenaway, Bille August, Marleen Gorris, Takeshi Kitano, Arturo Ripstein, King Hu, Sergio Corbucci, Ettore Scola and Luchino Visconti. For more information, please visit www.filmmovement.com. Visit www.filmmovementplus.com for more information about Film Movement Plus, the new subscription streaming service from Film Movement.

 

“WHERE I BELONG”—- Finding a Place

“WHERE I BELONG”

Finding a Place

Amos Lassen

Writer-Director Fritz Urschitz’s “Where I Belong” is his feature-length film debut  and is set when

Hitler consolidated power and the politics of the Third Reich drove thousands into exile. After being forced to leave Austria, Rosemarie Kohschitz (Natalie Press) and her ailing father Friedrich (Matthias Habich) went to England but unfortunately, when the war was over, the world they knew had changed forever. In the ‘50s they live together in a shabby English house and hard-working Rosemarie struggles to make ends meet by working in a garment shop. She studies typing and dictation classes in the evening in hopes of landing a better job. At home she is her father’s little Austrian daughter and all that he has left.

 

Friedrich tries to reclaim the estate that was taken from them in the war and Rosemarie’s life is split between evenings in the dance hall with her friends, work and the life with her father. Change comes for them both, however, when Anton arrives. He is a charming but married man in his 40’s who was Friedrich’s old charge from the days in an internment camp. With him come feelings of love, loss and longing.

 

Getting ahead in England is very difficult— they are little more than second-class citizens, and the relationship between daughter and father is not as fluid as it would be desired. Anton hides some parts of his life from Rosemarie.

 

Director Fritz Urschitz, creates the “mood” that he surely wanted, something like “this is life, either take it or leave it”, and soberly points out the relationships between the different characters, their love and her pain, and the joy of motherhood. But it’s a bit too light..

Hitler consolidated power, the politics of the Third Reich drove thousands into exile. After being forced to leave Austria, Rosemarie Kohschitz (Natalie Press) and her ailing father Friedrich (Matthias Habich) settled in England; unfortunately, when the war ended, the world they knew had changed forever, so the ‘50s finds the pair living together in a shabby English house, with the hard-working Rosemarie struggling to make ends meet by working in a garment shop and taking typing & dictation classes in the evening in hopes of landing a better job. When she gets home though, she becomes her father’s little Austrian daughter– she is all aging and embittered émigré has left.

 

While Friedrich tries in vain to reclaim the estate that was taken from them in the war, Rosemarie’s life is split between evenings in the dance hall with her friends and the grueling routine of her work and the life with her father. Change comes for them both, however, when Anton, a charming but married man in his 40’s — and Friedrich’s old charge from the days in an internment camp — arrives and triggers love, loss and longing in this intense period drama nominated for “Best Actress” and “Best Costume Design” at the Austrian Film Awards.

 

Rosemary is a young Austrian who lives with her father in England, both of whom fled their country during the Nazi occupation. Getting ahead there is not easy, they are little more than second-class citizens, and the relationship between daughter and father is not as fluid as it would be desired. While working and attending typing classes, she meets Anton, a man she likes, but who hides some parts of his life from her.

 

Laconic film, which languidly runs with sad music to tell the gray life of Rosemary and the difficulties of the environment in which it unfolds. Its director and screenwriter, the unknown Fritz Urschitz, creates the “mood” that he surely wanted, something like “this is life, either take it or leave it”, and soberly points out the relationships between the different characters, their love and her pain, and the joy of motherhood. But it’s all too light, there’s little room for genuinely genuine emotions.

“TRUMAN AND TENNESSEE: AN INTIMATE CONVERSATION”— Two Literary Giants

“TRUMAN AND TENNESSEE: AN INTIMATE CONVERSATION”

Two Literary Giants

Amos Lassen

Both Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams left indelible impressions on the world. They both challenged notions of American life, sexuality and gender, and both struggled with substance abuse before their deaths. They were close friends throughout their lives and they occasionally vacationed and wrote together.

Director Lisa Immordino Vreeland takes us inside the private lives and friendships of the two men in ‘Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation”. She utilizes archive footage, excerpts of the written works of both men, and their private diaries and correspondence to show us the friendship between them. Actors Zachary Quinto (Williams) and Jim Parsons (Capote) narrate the men’s words. The film draws on the many parallels between the men: their sexuality, their Southern upbringing, their vices, their subjects, and the way their private lives translate into their text. The film prefers to look at the written words of Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams, which are much more interesting and insightful than what we see in film adaptations. The documentary will probably send viewers to bookstores or libraries to look up and read some of the works that they wrote.It is quite clear that the directorread all of their books and plays before turning to their archives looking for original material to use in the film.

Both Parsons and Quinto, read extensively from their writings and capture not only their Southern accents but also the tenor of their voices. The result is that we feel that we have spent 90 minutes in the company of two captivating and amazing personalities.

Both authors knew at a young age that they wanted to be writers, both came from the Deep South, and both came from broken families and while this is biographical information that documentary is not a biopic.

Both writers discuss their homosexuality, both men traveled abroad extensively, occasionally crossing paths. Both visited Paul and Jane Bowles in Tangier, but at different times and we see the moments when their histories collide. The film is really about the inner workings of these men=== their weaknesses, their passions, their creative processes, and how difficult it is to be creative and to maintain it. They speak openly about addiction and depression.

“Truman & Tennessee” also includes clips from many of the films made from Williams’s plays, among them “A Streetcar Named Desire” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” and “Sweet Bird of Youth.” Williams admitted he was almost always disappointed by the film adaptations of his plays.

There are many photographs of Capote taken at his Brooklyn Heights home by David Attie. The film is almost a live reading of both writers’ diaries, except Vreeland highlights particularly poetic bits of wisdom and framing them around a uniting theme. The visuals are mostly of still photos and talk-show footage. The narrative is framed around their relationship and the film illuminates new sides of both authors.

Visually striking is the moment in the film that introduces fascinating found footage from interviews with David Frost. Vreeland and editor Bernardine Colish split the screen as Frost introduces each man. When placed side by side, it’s amazing to see Williams and Capote take the stage and sit down with similar mannerisms, and demeanors. The two men become knowable and their greatness is shadowed briefly by familiarity.

Vreeland also looks at each man’s great love: The actor Frank Merlo, Williams’ partner of 14 years, and the writer Jack Dunphy, whom Capote called “the only person I will love until the day I die.” Each man’s observations of the other in love are catty, with Williams annoyed at Capote’s hanging onto Dunphy, and Capote finding Merlo somewhat dull.

Both men had personal and professional challenges — both struggled with alcoholism, weak writing periods, loneliness, and disappointed fathers. Both visited the original infamous “Dr. Feelgood”. and a late-in-life filmed interview with Capote finds him ruminating quite profoundly on the nature of addiction, comparing recovery to remission from cancer. They also shared a deep superstitious streak, belief in the occult, and irrational phobias. Some of us know much of what we see in the film but it is great fun to be reminded of it all.

 

“SPIRAL”— Malik and Aaron

“SPIRAL”

Malik and Aaron

Amos Lassen

“Spiral” opens with Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) talking to step-daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte) about men. She’s at an age where hearing about others’ mistakes could help her to avoid her own. He tells her that men are mostly pretty awful really except for her dad and Aaron (Ari Cohen), his partner.  Aaron and Malik have been together for a long time now and things feel easy between them. They live in a  small town in a new place by a lake where life is supposed to be simpler and easier and better for Kayla, whom they both worry about in the city where anything could happen. But is this new place safe? Malik quickly picks up on homophobic and racist vibes, and there are less subtle occurrences which make him uncomfortable. Aaron, who has presumably helped him through PTSD from an earlier experience, dismisses all this. The world isn’t like that anymore, he says.

“Spiral” is one of those films that just couldn’t have been made before cinema brought in gay characters from beyond the fringes. It turns the way women have been treated in film in the past and uses it on men. Malik is vulnerable by his race in ways that just don’t occur to Aaron. He has had paranoid episodes in the past and can’t fully trust his own senses. Bowyer-Chapman is excellent and makes us feel for him even when we really can’t tell what’s real. We see him as s an intelligent man doing his best to remain rational in a crazy situation. It is his performance that really elevates the film.

Malik’s predicament makes it difficult to draw easy conclusions and the viewer questions how much they might be missing in the world around them. “Spiral” explories the power imbalances in relationships and all the little ways in which people don’t listen to each other and themes around communication on multiple levels.

Aaron has no intuition. Malik has no common sense. They are the perfect victims for small-town cult. However, the film suggests they are really being targeted because of their “otherness” as a gay couple. Malik still gets flashbacks of his high school lover getting bashed to death before his eyes and so do we as the audience. This traumatic event has profoundly shaped his persona and worldview. He even still takes medication for the lingering PTSD. Aaron was once married to a woman, with whom he had his daughter Kayla. The new house looks comfortable but gives off bad vibes that only Malik picks up on them.

He says nothing when someone breaks into the house to spray a slur across their living room wall, quickly painting over it before Aaron or Kayla can see it. However, when the unwelcoming old man across the street has a late-night freak-out on their lawn, Malik starts to suspect the neighborhood really is out to get them. Nevertheless, Aaron insists everything is fine, except maybe Malik’s paranoia. Kayla is no help in any of this— she is, after all, a teenager.

“Spiral” hinges on Aaron giving more credence to strangers than to his committed partner.Directed by Kurtis David Harder, it begins as many horror films begin, with a love scene from the past that ends tragically, before moving forward to its main time frame, some ten years later. Since it is set in 1995, the internet and cell phones are not there for moments of need.

Malik and Aaron have moved from Chicago and as Aaron goes to work, while Malik settles into the drudgery of ghost-writing an autobiography for a racist white man. It’s not long, however, before Malik senses that something is not quite right with the peaceful rural community. 

For one thing, an older, white neighbor stares across the property at Malik without speaking. As a Black man in America during the 1990s, Malik is unhappily accustomed to ignoring such unwelcoming looks, but then he notices it again when he is on his morning run. Is the overwhelmingly white town reacting to him by staring because he is Black? Or is it because he and Aaron are a same-sex couple?  But then it might be something else altogether.The opening scene establishes that something was not quite right in the vicinity, and Malik’s own past experiences suggest that something traumatic may be what is unsettling his present state of mind. For their part, Malik and Aaron’s other neighbors, Marshal (Lochlyn Munro) and Tiffany (Chandra West), are a hetero couple who represent the majority in town, though they are friendly enough to the two men. 

However, Malik’s heightened radar has been alerted but Aaron dismisses Malik’s rising concerns. Soon enough, Malik finds himself alone as he deals with his increasing anxieties that may, in fact, be very real. Something more is afoot, as Malik is about to discover.

“Spiral” gives us  s an intricate and complex story that, whilst dealing with the expected horror, also has a lot to say. Even though it is set in the nineties, there are a lot of similarities that can be drawn to today’s social climate and its acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s important, however,  to note that although the film does deal with the prejudices that people in a same-sex couple have to endure, Malik and Aaron themselves are not defined by their sexuality. Malik and Aaron just happen to be the same sex. This could have just as easily been a tale about a heterosexual interracial couple. The overarching message wouldn’t be quite as strong, but Malik and Aaron are simply characters who happen to be gay but aren’t defined by it.

There’s a lot of mystery here. As Malik starts to look into those around him, we are right there with him, trying to figure the puzzle out for themselves.