THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART AND THE FILM SOCIETY OF LINCOLN CENTER
FILMS TO SEE:
BLUE CAPRICE (US, 2012)
Dir: Alexandre Moors
New Directors 2013 OPENING NIGHT
Moors experiments with cinema’s crime form in Blue Caprice, based on the 2002 shootings, in and around Washington DC, known as the Beltway sniper attacks. John Allen Muhammad and his much younger accomplice, whom he trained as a teenager, Lee Boyd Malvo, drove from location to location, such as parking lots and gas stations, and shot people from a small hole in the car, as they lay hidden in the trunk of their Caprice. Moors almost bifurcates the film into two sections, one as a series of sequential vignettes that tell the story of how the two men met and began to move toward the crimes, the other as a fluid, almost avant-garde cover of the crimes where the killings are abstracted by having little focus on detail. In the second part, Moors emphasizes the car’s movement along highways and the seemingly arbitrary choice of targets, such that the two killers, even though minimally on screen, remain key. The crime is never analyzed and the motive is left as almost unimportant. The film is built around the inexplicable relationship, virtually that of father and son, of the killers. The use of the two approaches is the film’s best feature. Its downside is that the abstracted action, its strongest device, is its weakest point. This mutes the crimes and, accompanied by a classical score, sweeps them into a visual lyric. This undercuts Moors’ seeming intention, through these distancing methods, to sensitize the audience to the way society desensitizes death by its sensationalizing of “crime” as just another story.
An interesting, well constructed take on the crime film.
Shannon Plumb’s delightfully ingenious comedy is very, very funny and, long after the film ends, it’s still funny. It’s an unusual film but Plumb, who wrote, directed and starred in Towheads, built it on something most people recognize: silent film’s classic comic tropes - physical comedy, good timing and a character who is an odd but, nevertheless, loveable person with whom people can identify. Plumb further anchored the film in a common narrative. Towheads is based in the genre, (one that is both comic and dramatic), of a person at an imposed impasse. In the male version of this genre, a working man, typically, becomes marginalized or downgraded and confronts it; in the female version, typically, a woman in a domestic or low wage world and already marginalized or downgraded, copes with it. Plumb set her “impasse” genre in an affluent arty Brooklyn home and centered it on the escapist fantasies of a housewife, whose career has fizzled, and who has young children. Plumb makes surreal and absurdist comedy around these clichés but without attacking them. Instead she deftly riffs on each one to make new jokes out of old material. This is no mean feat when the opening gag is about three men at a construction site as a harried young mother pushing a stroller and a hip beautiful texting young woman go by.
This is feminist film, a smoothly made film and a film that enjoys looking at ways in which we find things funny. It isn’t without pain as it is built on the much worked story of the labels, assumptions, and conflicts that women, of any type, have to deal with as they age and have families in a society that is itself conflicted about women’s rights. But the film hits these hard issues in soft ways through its mysterious, madcap humor. Plumb’s character could one be that Lucille Ball, who played a pent up housewife in her television show, I Love Lucy, and through that device managed to reveal to viewers her enormous talent (but without leaving the domestic rules), would have been if she had been able to have a crazed and creative break-out, nervous breakdown.
There are many, many riotous scenes but one, in which Plumb pairs an unprecedented sight gag with Nina Simone singing Feeling Good, should go down in the annals of comedy. It should also go down in the annals of making a political point. The image is funny, disturbing, uplifting, and highly unusual all at once.
The film is ostensibly about Polley’s family secret - her mother’s love affairs and their consequences - but Polley is really examining the nature of “stories” and how they are used to reveal and conceal real situations. Though the center of the family saga, the mother, is ever elusive and starts as a cipher and remains a cipher, Polley uses that enigma to create a film that is, then, polemically Polley’s own. It becomes obvious that her version of the family story is, despite the film’s many interviews that attempt to “get at the truth,” exactly what she has aimed for all along. This is the film’s success - that she creates a simple film about the complex impossibility of finding the family’s “inner story.”