Duncan is very good at choosing what to watch on Netflix. I had discounted ‘Strong Island’, simply because I thought the name was so crap and unevocative (and it is: a real shame in my opinion for a documentary so overwhelmingly raw and brilliantly executed).
But this was coruscating, searing : we couldn’t really speak throughout. But we both dreamed about it the whole night (literally in my case, my brain gripped like a leather glove); yes, the director was ‘performing’ his pain, but it was in the name of something deep and wounded and guilt drenched that had to be expurgated (not that it ever could be).
The unvarnished rawness of the film – unlike anything I have ever seen I think – was accentuated, and emphasized beautifully, and very noticeably ( the aesthetics were so good they made you uncomfortable ‘with the fact that you were enjoying’ it – often an intrinsic problem with documentaries I often feel ) with – FINALLY !- the minimal use of background music, which my cold heart rejects after a while no matter how tragic the story: I am simply too musically and cranially sensitive to endure too many overwrought strings or pianeggios ripping off the dreaded score of The Hours: ::: here, the pain was left to burn itself into your brain preconceived but unadorned :: my heart was palpitating as I watched it but I couldn’t actually ‘take’ the emotion as it happened : it had to be stored, and worked around, later.
Yes, it verged on emotional or experiential pornography, if you want to think of it like that. But the director, pictured – so unflinchingly earnest, honest, and assured in the rejection of the cliche ( which I fucking HAIL, personally ; YES to looking straight into the camera and addressing the audience directly when it works; yes to letting people stutter or go back on themselves or cough on camera or backtrack slightly, just as people actually do; yes to art where a person excavates, and illuminates, their family’s most unbearable agony for the common truth): was so intuitive, and merciless, that the film added up to something beautiful, and devastating.
9 responses to “You never know what’s going to happen”
You write a superior film review to most film reviewers. (Why am I not surprised?) I want to see this, but I’ll have to find out how. Interlibrary connect doesn’t have it in B.C. and we don’t get Netflix. I have to see what I can do. Sounds unmissable.
I mean I think I respond to this rare combination of restraint and raw power : it is stark and burning with slow fury while being totally bathed in love simultaneously – I found it moving. Others might not find it ‘dramatic’ enough.
In these times though, where unbridled racism is being sanctioned and made socially acceptable by that hollow and leering orange motherfucker, I think this kind of documentary, to be honest, is required viewing.
And thanks for the compliment : it just came out like this but I have too many film critics I admire to even consider doing reviews usually. It has to be immediate and unselfconscious.
( I DO think Netflix is great for this kind of thing, actually : naturally I was also wary of the addicting factor and the ‘pollution’ aspect, but it is cheap, and many of the documentaries are absolutely superb : proper intelligent windows on the world).
Restraint can be so much more affecting than calculated heartstring tugging, which leaves me cold. I’m thinking 12 Years a Slave . . . which I realize leaves me in the vast minority.
I personally can’t tolerate Steve Mcqueen as a director (I DESPISED Hunger and Shame), so knew I had to steer clear of 12 Years A Slave. However, his latest film, Widows (a genre heist movie) I LOVED and watched twice on the plane. He was letting go a bit and not being so hideously serious – it was just a bunch of women robbing some heinous Republican.
I’m not the only one?! Whew.
I’ve heard his work described as “feebly provocative.” Nicely said. And so humourless . . . and self-conscious, implausible and psychologically stingy.
Good to know he can loosen up.
Laughing to myself on the bus reading this.
I mean Widows DOES star Viola Davis, who I love and who does serious like no other, but it’s also a heist flick full o twists
Just ordered Widows from the library. I love Viola Davis. And your description. McQueen will have a chance to redeem himself.
Remember it is only high level genre trash !
Just saw the trailer. Absolutely a film I would love to see.