Not rated, but there is some nudity coupled with sexuality and violence. It's more about the themes surrounding racism, which is really going to probably make it more awkward for younger audiences. Not in the sense that they shouldn't explore these themes, but just that it is so incredibly depressing getting to some of these ideas.
DIRECTOR: Melvin Van Peebles
Do you know how much I want to get this done today, but I probably won't be able to? Shh, I might be able to slip away and finish it at some point today. Pray that I am able to write faster than humanly possible because I have so many thoughts that just need to happen. I don't like the fact that I'm not knocking out movies as quickly as I used to. Am I watching less? I don't know. Maybe it is just that I'm reading more, but it still doesn't change the fact that I want to have a movie blog everyday.
I bought the Melvin Van Peebles box set. The second that something intimidates me, that means I should get into it. I'm really more setting up for Sweet Sweetback with the purchase, but I'm always going to watch the movies in recommended order. With that, I have to enter a category of movie that always kind of leaves me cold: The American New Wave. This is the American New Wave, right? It has all of the aesthetic elements of the New Wave. There's something very garage band about the way that this movie was made. It feels like it is made on a shoestring budget with actors that probably haven't been professionally trained. Similarly, there are some editing issues that make the movie feel clunky at times. But it also has the best elements of any of the New Wave movements: it does things its own way. Honestly, for the first twenty minutes, I was gritting my teeth, powering through something that looked like it was going to be rough. But then, like many New Wave films, it grabbed me. With the case of Van Peebles, it was the idea that it was going to tell a traditional tale, but include just absolutely bananas representations of those ideas.
The first moment where traditional storytelling is skewed is the voice in the mirror. It's something we've seen before. In fact, it's been used so much that it has become shorthand for the inner monologue. I do love that Turner's inner monologue is more than a talking head though. Van Peebles plays with the angel and devil motif, instead casting both elements of Turner's personality as sympathetic masks that Turner is meant to don in society. Turner, naturally quite mellow, stays under the radar. The reflection, Turner-as-Black-Man, accuses this Turner of being an Uncle Tom. It's not that Turner is villainized through this piece for playing society's rules for being the well-behaved Black man. Considering much of the film treats Turner as "one of the good ones", the Reflection Turner does kind of have a point. But I like that Reflection Turner isn't a false Turner either. We see that Turner come out in the Spanish restaurant, when he's referred to as Senor Blackie. Perhaps it is my whiteness, but I get the vibe that Van Peebles is playing up the notion that bottled up culture is often misdirected when allowed free. I mean, Turner isn't exactly wrong to punch him. There was a shallowness to that term being used.
But also, a lot of the movie is about Turner as Black Man in a foreign land. The cultural expectations of Europe, specifically France, comes across as as racial paradise in comparison to the creeping tendrils that the United States has in this film. Turner and Miriam really do seem to love each other. Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking from a 21st Century perspective here. Both Van Peebles and I came to the same conclusion about this muddied utopia of racial acceptance: it isn't quite what it seems. The movie ends with Miriam not being allowed to talk to Turner on the phone when he is finally able to speak. It's a little unclear whether or not Miriam chooses not to speak to Turner or she has moved onto another person in her life. But the back-and-forth that these two characters have seems legit. If I'm being critical, which I suppose I tend to be, the chemistry wasn't exactly there, but that's because of lack of busy work that goes into relationship. Every time these characters were told to laugh, very rarely was there something that would cause two people to laugh. The actors did what they could with this moment.
But Van Peebles really does tell us that they are in love. There's nothing seemingly sinister about Miriam's choice to sleep with a Black man. It doesn't change the fact that her deep-rooted sexual proclivities jump to the notion of the savage. Her id wants the naughtiness of going against society. But I do get the vibe that Miriam is more driven by her superego. She is capable of understanding the drive that her id has and add to the notion that Turner is a really friendly guy who simply happens to be Black, which romantically does it for her. It is through Miriam's superego that we see France through her eyes. She shows him an idealized world, where she can get a hotel with a Black man without scrutiny. Sure, that reality has hints of microaggression coming through. But in contrast to the racially driven America, personified by Turner's CO, it is understandable that he too wants to live the dream of a post-racial France. Miriam covers up the stigmas that may still peek through a relationship. Perhaps that is why it is so tragic that it seems like Turner and Miriam will never find their joy together.
And that's where the Reflection Turner acts as prophet. Mirror Turner knows what we're all thinking. This world is a terrible place and even the most well-intentioned White people are still White people. There's the pressure of expectations. When the guest from the AME church breaks Turner's personal code of staying under the radar, he knows that there are going to be consequences to her decision to butt into military affairs. But he chooses to embrace something that is abhorrent to him --confrontation --and runs for Miriam. It's this very telling moment that Turner will continue to make the same White person sin that got him into so much trouble in the first place. He will always pursue Miriam because she has transcended the White woman of a three-day pass. It confirms the "I love you" that we got near the end of the movie. He has changed because of his time with Miriam because old Turner would just do what he was told and keep his nose clean. But this Turner doesn't care what either his CO or mirror Turner thinks about what is appropriate.
And like many New Wave films, the movie tricked me into loving it. It is such a basic story. Here I was, thinking that this was going to be the Black spin on A Catcher in the Rye and I got something far more interesting. The world is a beautiful place, but that's often just a disguise for something far more sinister. If I can keep this enthusiasm for the rest of the box set, I should have a great purchase on my hands.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.