“Postcards from America”
Three Sides of David Wojnarowicz
“Postcards from America” is an avant garde film based on two autobiographies of David Wojnarowicz, the performance artist and writer who died in 1992 from complications due to AIDS. We see three sides of his life—his suburban childhood and the abuse that his alcoholic father put on him, his teen years when he worked s a hustler on the streets of New York City and his other criminal activity and finally his adult life, an abstraction which shows him walking through a desert. But what happens when these three identities are established makes the film a bit hard to follow as there is no chronology and the three Davids play on each other.
The reason I chose to publish this review now is because Cynthia Carr’s wonderful biography, “Fire in the Belly” has just been published and while the film was released in 1995, it made little sense and was not well received. Now after reading Carr, everything falls into place. However when we compare Wojnarowicz’s work and see what intensity and fury exists there, the film cannot really measure up. James Lyons who plays the adult David almost manages to capture the man. The film’s intentions are great and the film is at times effective and quite beautiful to watch, the style of it disturbs the viewer from getting the complete picture.
“Postcards from America” is based on both Wojnarowicz’s life his two autobiographical books “Close to Knives” and “Memories that Smell like Gasoline”. These two books are basically “a series of essays that sketch the horrors of his childhood, his sexual experiences as a prostitute and on the road, and his battle with AIDS”. The filmmakers just did not know what to do with the good ideas they had when they began to make this film. The style of the film, directed and scripted by Steve McLean, mixes scenes of Wojnarowicz’s childhood, his teenage years, and his later years on the road. In each case Wojnarowicz is played by a different actor at each stage of his life, and overall the effect is quite interesting and the performances are quite a bit better than you might expect. The cinematography by Ellen Kuras is also quite fine. Unfortunately the script needs work even though most of it is made up of Wojnarowicz’s own words. I believe that the real reason the film did not originally succeed was that it was impossible to bring the fury of the man to the screen and when his anger is missing, we do not get to know him. Nonetheless, I found this to an interesting film and even if it is not what we call a landmark film, it keeps us watching.