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CinemATL: The Blog is a free-form, non-edited (we love typoes!) extension of CinemATL Magazine, where we will continually update with the latest news and observations. Think of it as CinemATL's personal diary. Or don't. It's your loss. Just don't come crying to us when you fail to come up with a better metaphor...
Psychiatrist Ethan kneels down with his daughter Paisley to pray. Not exactly a religious man he becomes concerned when he hears the latest prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep”, wife Carly has taught their daughter.
Carly wants Paisley to believe in something bigger than her, while Ethan doesn’t want his daughter to “dwell on her own mortality.”
Ethan compromises with his wife and says he’ll find a prayer that he’s more comfortable with to teach Paisley.
Sleep Keep is a well produced short without a clear message or a strong character arc.
When Ethan returns home and teaches his daughter a new prayer asking for peace, it’s an unsatisfying conclusion.
For a film about faith, faith itself is treated too lightly.
Money and sex exert a large sway over relationships and have been touched on ad infinitum in film. Yet rarely explored on screen are the questions of spirituality, religion and faith within the context of marriage. It’s a component that should be conspicuous in its absence.
In Sleep Keep, it’s no different. Clearly important to his wife, Ethan easily dismisses Carly’s beliefs, while Carly barely defends them. Never does Harvey peel back this conflict and give us the whys and the whats these two differing world views would generate within in a marriage. Nor does she offer us a real hint of how families like Ethan and Carly’s resolve these issues without tearing asunder or just choosing to ignore them.
While it’s commendable to see Harvey give us a Black male character who isn’t a drug dealer, serial cheater or murder, it’s at the expense of her female characters. It would have made more sense for Carly to find a new prayer since she’s the one most vested in Paisley’s spiritual growth. And the opportunity for Ethan to understand more about his wife’s beliefs and to become more supportive of those beliefs is missed.
Sacrificing Black women in pursuit of uplifting Black men, and vice versa, real or imagined, subtle or overt, is an issue that continues to remerge time and time again.
From Angela Davis’s days in the Black Panther party to the furor over Alice Walker’s “Color Purple”, Black folk have struggled to break free of the either or dynamic. Either uplift Black men or Black women, but you can’t do both. Even more difficult is our inability as Black folk to recognize it, even when it’s the guise of the benign.
To see Carly and Ethan jointly craft a prayer they could pass on their daughter…well the symbolism would have had a potency that is only given lip service in most films featuring Black men and women, but is ultimately missing. The most recent example would be the ending of Madea’s Family Renuion when not one Black man steps up to join the matriarchs on the porch when they give their we need each other speech. They all stare and gawk, nodding their heads.
Finally, Ethan’s turn and acceptance of prayer comes all too quickly.
There are some well directed scenes of Ethan interacting with two of his patients, yet whatever clues they are meant offer us are hard to discern. How they motivate Ethan’s change of heart is too subtle. Even after multiple viewings I’m still at a lost at how they relate to Ethan’s journey.
The one aspect that Harvey does touch on is the irony that Ethan is in a profession in which people have to place their faith and hope in his abilities. Even though he’s a man of science, it’s strange that it would be so difficult for him to understand people’s need to look for answers outside themselves. Even if that means looking up and not ahead.
After an intense relationship with a man named Gil abruptly ends, the style Jackie applies to her paintings turns in a different direction. The change is to the consternation of her friends Helen and David who find her new approach off putting. Especially Helen, who, reminding Jackie that her previous style was more commercial, cajoles her into taking a meeting that Jackie’s in no mood to attend.
Enter Athena, an odd woman Jackie often sees at the bus stop. Unexpectedly showing up at Jackie’s door step while Jackie, Helen and David are having dinner, Athena, using Jackie’s paintings, will help the troubled painter discover the source of her emotional turmoil and current motivation.
Fortune’s Fool is film that has quite a bit to say, but, as with other Woman’s Angle films, attempts to do it in all too short of a running time with too many other conflicting ideas and concepts included.
The basic premise that’s explored is how one significant event can domino through time and space giving new encounters and relationships potency and resonance.
Unfortunately, beyond an initial sex scene, we aren’t privy to Jackie’s relationship with Gil. And beyond a few brief on screen moments, and an almost throw way line about Jackie attempting to commit suicide, neither are we given an intimate look into the aftermath of the relationship–the meeting Helen sets up for Jackie is completely skipped.
This sets up multiple problems.
One is that Helen and David are presented as selfish characters, less interested in Jackie’s internal struggle than they are in satisfying their own goals and needs. Yet, since we know nothing about Jackie, it’s a bit unfair, without delving deeper into Helen and David’s involvement, to place them in such an unflattering light.
The other problem is that, not until much later–and even then it’s still left to interpertation–do we discover what those emotions are. Is Jackie sad? Is she angry? Confused? How will understanding those emotions impact her life? How is not understanding those emotions currently impacting her life?
Director Jurgen impliesthat Jackie is at a nadir, however, not explained is what is a high point for Jackie. What would Jackie’s victory be.
Lastly, the amount of, undefined, emotional weight introduced at the beginning is much too great to be resolved by a single encounter with a strange woman. If Athena and Jackie’s talk is meant to be the catalyst for Jackie’s breakthrough then the scene requires much more gravitas and intensity. Instead, the scene is more the start of act two in a much longer work than the forceful climax of a third act.
As far as Helen and David are concerned, we are meant to despise them, yet in the span of a few seconds they become more interesting and dynamic than either Athena or Jackie.
Even in the staging and blocking extreme deference is given to David and Helen. At one point Jackie disappears below frame while David and Helen remain in the shot. And in another series of shots David blocks our view of Jackie.
Although this could be seen as a stylistic choice that gives us visual hints to how David and Helen crowd out Jackie.
Yet this film is from Jackie’s POV. If what we are seeing is deliberate, to switch to David and Helen’s POV, without reason or insight undermines Jackie’s progression. It makes Fortune’s Fool partially David and Helen’s story.
Jackie does regain agency over own story via an interesting device.
After dinner David and Helen read their fortunes. David’s says “Your soul is a withered pear.” While Helen’s says “Your friendship is like a running river.” Insulted by what was written David and Helen storm out.
Athena then congratulates Jackie on getting David and Helen out of the house. Jackie re-reads the slips and discovers that they are regular fortunes. It was Jackie’s own desires that influenced what David and Helen see.
Jackie’s art reflecting her emotional journey isn’t particularly new or interesting. However, that Jackie has the ability to manipulate what others see is.
Passive-aggressive as that manipulation might be, it would have been interesting to see the visuals and situations director Kimberly Jurgen would have conjured exploring that aspect of Jackie’s personality.
One night Stacy and Paul awake to the noise of a car alarm. Finding their teenage daughter’s bed empty they’re lured outside when they hear a car’s horn and its tires abruptly skidding. There they discover their daughter bleeding, having cut herself on a fence and just barely avoiding being hit by a car.
Realizing that Pheobe’s sleepwalking, and the nightmares she’s had for sometime have have gotten worse, Stacy and Paul take her to sleep disorder specialist.
The specialist believes that Pheobe has suffered some type of emotional trauma and that trauma has caused the nightmares and the sleepwalking. After the specialst asks Stacy and Paul if Pheobe has been abused, to which both parents answer no, Stacy, with no other logical explanation for Pheobe’s condition, begins to doubt that her husband is being entirely truthful.
Desperate to protect her daughter, Stacy will make several decisions that will do more harm than good.
The Promise is too much story for its short running time.
At its core the promise contains three major on screen relationships (Pheobe-Paul, Paul-Stacy, Pheobe-Stacy) and a fourth that exists off screen (Pheobe-Jennifer). All four are essential and removing just one would immediately dismantle the story’s basic framework.
The Promise has a running time under 20 minutes, yet has enough going on to justify a 90 minute film, missing are the quiet moments that would give each of these dyads dimension, weight and force.
Dropped into the middle of the narrative, we know nothing of consequence about these characters. Our first introduction to Pheobe is when she’s making out with her boyfriend and from there we immediately jump to her nightmares and her sleepwalking. We don’t even learn the basics such as her name or who the boyfriend is, let alone what their relationship is and how that relationship will be important to the rest of the story.
Even in those moments in which McDonald-Bradford has the opportunity to give insights into the connections that define this family unit, she focuses on inflating scenes with tension and high emotion and not information.
Although there is a brillant scene in which Paul and Pheobe are hugged up on a sofa reading. Paul flicks Pheobe on top of her head, kicks her feet with with his. All the while Stacy looks on trying to interpert what’s going. This are little things that can be benign, but anyone that’s been in a romantic relationship knows can also be loaded with meaning. However, it also shows us how close Paul and Pheobe are. In here there exists a scene that’s filled with tension, possible foreshadowing and information. And there’s not one word of dialogue.
It’s a shame that there aren’t more scenes like it, because their absence robs Stacy and Pheobe of definition and strong character arcs.
Stacy spends most of the running time nervous and jumpy. Our first introduction to her is her reacting to the car alarm. Nor do we ever see her and Pheobe interact other than during the emotional peaks. The only moment of quiet joy comprable to the sofa scene comes when Stacy invades her daughter’s privacy and reads her journals. This not only makes her actions and suspicions appear even more irrational and unfounded, it robs us of a chance to see what a geniune connection between Stacy and Pheobe looks like.
As for Pheobe, along side her father, she’s Stacy’s MacGuffin. She exists only to motivate her mother’s actions.
That Pheobe so internalized her friend’s own pain and torment speaks to how deep friendship can run. And that she chooses to hold on to the pain rather than betray the trust of a friend, who is no longer even in the picture, to heal herself is fascinating. To never have those aspects of her character explored undermines Pheobe as a fully realized character. The opportunity to allow Pheobe to grow and learn is missed entirely.
Including that arc, would have also gone a long way to explaining the source of Stacy’s frustration. Pheobe’s loyality is hindering Stacy from not only finding any answers, but getting to understand her daughter better.
Not once during the story does Stacy talk to her daughter. Just one moment between mother and daughter would have done so much. It would have given us a better understanding of what kind of relationship exists between Stacy and Pheobe. The line later in the film when Pheobe tells Stacy that she messed up this time, hinting that Stacy has made huge blunders before, would have had a greater impact. And a Stacy-Pheobe talk would have justfied the betrayal, reading the diaries, on one hand, but given us the audience a reason, the lack of answers, to side with Stacy on the other.
The use of voiceovers during Pheobe’s nightmare and the flashbacks early in the film are themselves troubling. Since neither the flashbacks or voiceovers are revisited till late in the short. What’s required is that the audience has to keep these moments in mind and remember to keep them in mind. Which is made difficult when the point of view shifts from Pheobe’s to Stacy’s. No longer privy to Pheobe’s thoughts, it’s a lot to ask of an audience to remember such important information when the emotional volume of most scenes that follow are dialed fairly high. It’s like asking someone who’s witnessed 10 car wrecks in a row to recount the first one in detail. Even if the first one was the most spectacular, they still just witnessed nine more wrecks.
As a whole The Promise is a feature length film cramed into a short. You simply can’t excise the highlights from a 110 page screenplay and shoot that. Otherwise the end product, although filled with the most powerful moments, is going to be dramatically flat, filled with peaks and none of the valleys. And it’s climbing those emotional mountains that makes the journey exhilirating and satisfying and not the mountains themselves.
Here’s IMAGE’s new spot (GPB off 14th St.) for their monthly salons. They’ve teamed up with C-47 and last night’s salon on fiscal sponsorship was the inaugural kick off. And yes, those are cameras, and yes, they did film it, meaning hopefully you’ll soon get to see what you missed either on C-47’s GPB show or on their website…
While a detective searches for an important file his assistant/girlfriend impatiently waits for him to attend to her. Finally dissatisfied the assistant takes control in a surprising way.
In the first half of Changing Baby director Israel replicates two of film noir’s most recognizable archetypes. The confident male detective intent on his mission–so confident in his abilities, that even a pretty woman who wants to sleep with him can’t distract him. And the much younger woman who craves the affections of the hyper-masculine detective (by the detective’s standards—he dismisses her when she says she already looked for the file—the woman is seen as more a hindrance than a help).
Israel also duplicates several defining shots that not only characterized noir, but many films of the 30s and 40s. Among those shots are two that are most representative of the male gaze: An overheard shot of the assistant as she looks up at the detective, her eyes pleading for him to take her; and the corresponding shot as the detective looks down from up above, his face nearly void of sexual longing–he’s in control of his urges, the woman is not. It’s a dominant/submissive juxtaposition that exists in hundreds of films.
After this initial setup, Israel changes the rules of the game empowering the assistant with control over her very identity. Till the close of the film the assistant morphs into a series of women of differing ages, ethnicities and time periods.
How does the detective respond?
From the first change to the last, the detective is disoriented, remaining clueless to his assistant’s many transformations and their effect on him. In a role reversal the detective becomes more and more helpless as his assistant becomes stronger and more confident.
Using women of various ages and ethnicities, as well as using only numbers for each woman, is a clever commentary on the interchangeability of female roles in film noir and the women that played them–a vestige of old Hollywood that continues today and is arguably more pronounced.
In most films, either the age or the physical appearance of the women is inconsequential to the story, giving producers and directors free reign to cast anyone. Yet time and again, directors and producers cast to type, preferring young starlets and women who fit a certain beauty aesthetic.
The use of the various ages also highlights Hollywood’s reliance on pairing young actresses with actors who are old enough to be their father, a sometimes not so subtle reinforcement of the Electra complex, a psychoanalytical concept that in which women are sexually attracted to their fathers.
Ironically, some believe that the Electra complex is not a view that actually exists in society at large, but due to Freud’s (and Jung who coined the name itself) strong effect on artists in the early 20th century, it’s an that idea that has arguably become apart of our film language through repetition and imitation. The concept has become part of our film vocabulary by the virtue of time and not choice. Which only further illustrates the power themes and mores, good or bad, can have, unconsciously creeping into the very framework of the creative process without forethought or awareness from the creators involved. Making those themes and mores difficult to identify, question and when needed to remove.
The strongest moment of the short though is the assistant achieving self awareness. It’s through self awareness that she gains agency and with that agency the ability to influence the story.
Some may find Changing Baby a little too film 101, maybe even naive. However, once writers and directors begin creating more films in which actresses play true protagonists with as much awareness and power to dictate a story’s progression, its message is much needed.
In Defining Moments two daughters, Charmagne and Tasha, wrestle with whether or not they should lose their virginity.
Charmagne has been with her actor boyfriend Jonathan for a year and they’ve begun throwing the word marriage around. Whenever they are alone Charmagne and Jonathan get close to having sex, but Charmagne brings things to a halt before they go too far.
Together with her boyfriend Stephen for only a few weeks, Tasha, believing she lacks the body type men respond to, feels that sleeping with Stephen is the best path to keeping him. More over, Tasha is attracted to Stephen’s declaration of love because, true or not, it differs from the love she receives from her family.
Charmagne, encouraging her sister to not give in to Stephen, makes her a promise that she’ll refrain from sleeping with Jonathan if Tasha doesn’t sleep with Stephen.
While her daughters wrestle with their own issues mother Claudette struggles with her own image issues and a husband, Rev. Thompson, who seemingly no longer finds her sexually desirable. At a crossroads, it’s suggested that Claudette, dissatisfied with the state of her marriage and her husband’s disinterest, is contemplating leaving.
A short about society’s expectations of beauty and the pressure young women feel to have sex to maintain their relationships, Moments embodies several conflicting positions. Speaks never resolves those conflicts, choosing instead to give women a simplistic answer, don’t have sex till marriage, to emotionally and spiritually complex questions. The Bible verse, Song of Solomon 3:5 (Young women of Jerusalem, promise me by the power of deer and gazelles, never to awaken love before it’s ready…), tacked on the end punctuates the contradictory nature of the film’s themes.
According to Speaks, Rev. Thompson’s disinterest and the boyfriends’ pressures for sex are rooted in society’s expectations of women.
In one of his sermons Claudette’s husband declares, before a room full of women at a singles conference, that while Halle Berry is in his words fine he’d rather marry an ugly woman who loves God, than a beautiful woman who doesn’t acknowledge God. Charmagne points out her father’s hypocrisy, that he’s asking women to be modest while confirming the power social norms have on men, to her mother. Claudette dismisses the moment, giving her husband and all men a pass saying its human nature and that Charmagne should just accept it. Further reinforcing the double standard, Claudette backhandedly states that she’s trying hard to have Tasha and Charmagne act like respectable women, adding “maybe I still have some hope with Tasha.”
Here the problems with the message Speaks attempts to communicate start bubbling up.
That Claudette defends her husband isn’t the concern. There are thousands of Claudettes–male and female–that exist and no amount of argument can make them self-aware. The problem is that Charmagne, aware of the contradictions in her father’s message, then goes on to pass her father’s message of modesty to her sister.
Once Charmagne learns that Tasha is planning on losing her virginity, Charmagne pulls out the True Love Waits necklace her father gave her. She gives the half she was meant to give to Jonathan to Tasha. She makes Tasha promise to not sleep with Stephen if she doesn’t sleep with Jonathan.
Speaks never acknolwedges Charmagne’s own hypocrisy, or the irony that Charmagne may not be as aware of the patriarchical messages she’s received as she thinks. This lack of awareness is futher demonstrated when Tasha compares herself to the images in the magazine she reads and mentions she doesn’t have what those women have. The vast majority of those images are in magazines aimed at women, not men. Magazines that are predominately ran by women.
Another concern is that Charmagne doesn’t question her father. Rev. Thompson is the one who ultimately holds and believes these opinions. He’s also in a position of authority, preaching these troubling messages to thousands of women on a regular basis. Placing the burden on Claudette de-emphasizes Rev. Thompson’s complicity in the very system he derives benefits from.
Charmagne’s choice to speak with her mother and not her father also exemplifies the lack of communication Tasha, Claudette and Charmagne all share. At no point do any of these women actually talk to the men in their life, choosing to do more talking amongst themselves.
While watching a show about plastic surgery Claudette rhetorically asks why would any woman want to do something so radical to themselves adding that implies that God made a mistake. Then, looking for some kind reaction from her husband, she meekly mentions that maybe she should consider surgery herself. Oblivious, he simply walks out replying “Whatever makes you happy.”
When a shirtless Jonathan uses the “How do we even Adam and Eve were married” and what would it be like, again refering to Adam and Eve, to be “naked and unashmed” argument Charmagne, her back turned responds with a “I don’t know J.” Just minutes before that Jonathan also asks “Do you think God would be mad at us if we just lay here like this.” Charmagne’s response is also “I don’t know.”
Why doesn’t Claudette articulate her fears? Why doesn’t she ask about the source of her husband’s disinterest? Once her daughter points out the obivous why doesn’t she then confront her husband about the messages he puts out? Why doesn’t Charmagne have a better grasp on why she’s trying to wait? Why is she with someone who doesn’t respect her wishes and whose own desires she in turn doesn’t respect?
That both Claudette and Charmagne are effectively mute is disturbing. But, it also demonstrates why Tasha falls for Stephen’s lines, never stopping to ask any probing questions. Instead of encouraging her sister to talk and to question Stephen’s statements of love, Charmagne encourages Tasha to essentially just say no to having sex. Communication between men and women is a learned skill, it’s not inate. Tasha learned well.
What Speaks has reinforced, untentional or not, are the myths that men and women are at war and that the path to strengthening relationships is a one sided propostion. That last myth is extremely troubling because in Moments women hold the responsibility but men hold the power.
I can’t end this without speaking about an image that I personally found insulting.
After having sex with Stephen and getting caught, Tasha sneaks out the window and the camera zooms in on the bed. There in the middle is Tasha’s blood post-coitus.
Many cultures still check to insure a woman’s virginity was intact on her wedding night by looking for the woman’s blood. The assumption being that her hymen had been broken only after she slept with her husband.
The fact that a woman’s hymen can be broken without penetration, or that even when intact their may be no blood, still doesn’t stop hundreds and thousands of women from being punished for not being virgins on their wedding nights. Punishments range from immediate dissolution of the marriage and ostracization, to disfigurement and death. Just recently, stories about women teaching each other how to fake their hymen breaking on their wedding night have come out of Afghanistan.
Speaks never acknowledges the hypocrisy that there is no test for virginity in men and that men have rarely been held to the same standards.
That she gives this questionable sign of virginity such weight personally bothered me.
Regardless of whether or not you believe that sex belongs within the confines of marriage, I think most would agree that communication between men and women about sex, sexuality and there relationships is key. Far beyond anything else, even when one is confused, just articulating one’s fears and desires is the first step to be in charge of one’s own sexuality. And at the end of the day not one of Moments‘ women is empowered, or at least even on their way to being empowered.
The only messages one can walk away with, intentional or not, are that in defining their own worth sexually and cherishing their own emotional and spritual health, women are powerless and lack a voice.
If you didn’t come out to WIFTA’s evening with retiring AJC Film Critic and Editor Eleanor Ringel-Gillespie you missed a fun event.
I rarely ever agreed with Ringel-Gillespie’s reviews. On one hand I could probably count the number of times I came out of a film, read her take and nodded in agreement. And this is why the evening was so enjoyable.
What I took away from her reviews was that she was a stuffy elitest who occasionally would give a so-so, made for the masses flick a pass. And too often over-praised films that were little more than Oscar bait. I just could never get a bead on her.
What I took away from the evening is that she’s a cool ass chick–insert Jay-Z quote here–who is first on your invite list when you’re throwing a party.
Her vivacious vibe and energy was so evident the chair she was sitting in could barely contain her. Every time she grabbed sides of the chair I thought it was because she was trying to stop herself from bursting out of her seat. Her reviews now take on a whole new dimension.
One of the funniest moments? When someone in the audience asked what were Ringel-Gillespie’s favorite Georgia made films and she mentioned Adventures of Ocie Nash, totally unware that interviewer Kristen McGary was the film’s director.
Most interesting anecdote? Well, I can’t go in depth. You should never spill the sins of others. However, let’s just say that, in true 70s fashion, Big Bird and Oscar weren’t just into enlightening and expanding the minds of children, they practiced what they preached so to say.
What’s her process for reviewing films? She just writes what comes to her in her notepad and it’s often not till she reads her notes that she knows how she feels about a film. Best example was Prince’s Purple Rain when the last 20 minutes was so good she walkd out thinking she liked the film. Then she read her notes and realized how unaffecting the rest of the film was.
The Calendar has been updated. The Woman’s Angle screenings are now on the calendar, as well as the June films at the High Museum. As usual, check back perodically for more additions.
And don’t forget on May 19th that there’s a new episode of Atlanta Shorts on PBA 30 at 11 pm and the documentary Last Days of Left Eye , which opened this years Atlanta Film Festival, premieres on VH1 at 9 pm. So you can easily watch one then flip over and catch the other.