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.