Sunday, April 20, 2008

HotDocs 2008 #3: Well, They Can't All Be Winners...

I only had two films today, but they were strangely similar. The first doc was itself not a winner, and the second one was about a couple who, by and large, aren’t winners.

Victoire Terminus (3/8) was being plugged as a film about female boxers in the Congo trying to put together a tournament while political unrest rages in their country. Ummmmm...I guess that’s what it was about? I really don’t know. I mean, yes, there were female boxers in the movie, and they boxed...and there was footage of rally after rally leading up to an election...but, honestly, had I not read the program notes beforehand I would have had no clue what the point of the film actually was. None of the women are ever interviewed directly, just observed. Instead, one of their (male) coaches gets face time. There were no title cards or any onscreen text to outline what was happening or who the women are, so I couldn’t identify any of them by name after watching them for nearly 90 very-long minutes. It didn’t help that one of the filmmakers stood onstage beforehand for a five-minute preamble explaining the background of what we were about to watch. Unless he plans on doing this for every single screening of this film, I suspect I won’t be the only one left scratching her head as the closing credits roll.

I was similarly unsure of the intent behind my second film of the day, Song Sung Blue (5/8), which profiles a Milwaukee couple – Lightning and Thunder (Mike and Claire Sardina) – who perform as a Neil Diamond/Patsy Cline tribute act. This was the film that my friend warned me about yesterday, and I have to say that I kind of reacted to it in the same way she had: it felt a little exploitative of a rather depressing situation. I actually felt bad for Mike and Claire, instead of inspired by their drive. This movie is sort of the anti-Anvil. Where that film celebrated the determination and pure passion of a group of middle-aged dreamers who never give up, this film seemed to showcase the (rather serious and unpleasant) downside of being blinded by your own dream-chasing. What sounds like it might be a campy romp is, instead, a rather sobering glimpse at a dysfunctional family, who barely make ends meet, compromise their health and endure one setback after another...all the while desperately pursuing one more minute in the ever-fading “spotlight.” In the Q&A after the film, director Greg Kohs said he made the movie to “help” the family. But, as I sat there watching it and hearing the audience laugh at situations onscreen that were probably not meant to be at all funny, I had to wonder if he succeeded or if Song Sung Blue will wind up eliciting pity for its subjects rather than praise.

In better news, there won’t be a transit strike (at least, not yet) in the city tomorrow, so I can continue to see films! On deck for tomorrow, cults and sex-change operations...

2 comments:

Linda said...

I thought Song Sung Blue sounded really cute, as I'm a fan of Neil and Patsy. It's too bad that it felt exploitive, as those folks are obviously (from the photo at least) very passionate about their passions. And who are we to judge?

Vickie said...

Unfortunately, that promotional photo is from their (short-lived) heyday, and the film exposes the harsh realities of their lives offstage as their "fame" vanishes.