..,.Gary Dretzka
..,.Leonard Klady
...David Poland
...Doug Pratt
...Ray Pride

JANUARY 26, 2007
Whose Vision Of History Is It Anyway?

Sundance ended as it started for me... with Brett Morgan. It started with his film, Chicago 10, on opening night and ended with a chat over orange juice in The Eating Establishment. (It's funny how we all develop our Sundance habits... I am a Morning Ray person, Brett, apparently, an Eating Establishment guy.)

My Brett Dance began on opening night, when I ran into him at his film's party for just long enough not to discuss what I thought of his film. (One ever-funny journo walked away as we met, worried that he might witness me degradingly squirming in the pursuit of being nice. It didn't happen.) But when we got a chance to sit down, he, not unexpectedly, had a lot to say about what his intentions were and how they were misunderstood. One interesting detail was that after Opening Night, his pre-screening comments included a clearer note to the audience that they should be ready for an acid-trip of a film and that they should feel free to laugh. The response to the film in each of those subsequent screenings was, he felt, much better than Opening.

I kind of wish I had written the following before sitting down with him, because it happened before then, but the truth is, in spite of all of my issues with the film, I have to admit that I ran into an awful lot of people, from teenagers to rather smart adults, who loved the film... each of them previously unaware of the story of the Chicago 7/10. And the most virulent critics of the film were those who have strong memories of that period. (In that group I include myself.)

But the answer to all of this from Brett was clear... it was his intention to reconsider history, not repeat it in yet another journalistic doc. He didn't say as much, but I got the impression that the trial itself became a bit of a yoke around his movie's neck, though he quite likes his Cliff Notes version of it... more the Abbie Notes, since it is Hoffman's energy that so dominates the film and especially the trial. The goal was to recreate the energy of the moment and not the detail.

And I am all for that. I believe in POV Doc and I love the idea of reconsidering a historic moment in time from a new point of view.

A big part of what made the film so hard to swallow is that we/I knew so much going in. Here it is, the opening night at Sundance, a doc from an acclaimed documentarian, a very specific trial, and it felt like a cartoon layover on history to no great end. (By the way, the film was done in motion capture, not rotoscope like Waking Life.) But I think from Mr. Morgan's perspective, the history was a layover on the cartoon.

It also seems there was some conflict internally on just how far to take the film. Morgan offered some possible variations on how the film might otherwise have started... variations that would signal the audience not to expect anything remotely conventional or traditionally narrative. And I hope that he puts these ideas into the film before I next see it on release. One should not have to chat with the director to know what he was up to.

He also mentioned how much he would have preferred that the first audiences seeking the film had no idea there was animation involved. And I think his instinct there is exactly right. Had the animation been a surprise, it probably would have made the "this is something different" message more clearly as it would have been so shocking.

The issue involved is pretty basic to a lot of film... what does thing film tell you about its intent and how much should that matter to the audience?

At Sundance this year, this was also an issue with Nanking (westerners as heroes in a Chinese/Japanese conflict), Hounddog (how successful artistically does the on-screen rape and objectification of an 11-year-old have to be to be art instead of exploitation?), Teeth (is a man's vagina dental fantasy comedy feminist or misogynist?), Zoo (does the film exploit a sexual deviance, condone it, mock it?), etc, etc, etc.

The genius of Brett Morgan and Nanette Burstein's Bob Evan doc, The Kid Stays In The Picture, was its absolute lack of objectivity. The lack of objectivity created an objectivity, which is to say that it was so direct about the fact that Evans could be spinning anything at anytime, that it became about that personality flaw/fun and so informed the audience in a way words never could. You were charmed and yet, not terribly trusting throughout.

Here, the thing that seems to have stood in the way of Morgan's intention is only restraint. A pastiche of images, ideas, words, characters, and history could be very, very cool. It could, indeed, speak more effectively of the past to a new generation. I can imagine it based on what I saw in the film.

If Brett Morgan goes back into the editing room as swings as freely as the ideas he seems to have, I imagine it will.



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