Monday, July 11, 2005

dark, cold places

This weekend was hot. Those liars on the Weather Channel promised rain, otherwise I would have skipped town for the weekend. Instead, I ended up sticking it out stickily with everybody else in our fair city. It was nasty.

So sweaty and hot, I waited for ten minutes behind some porky hipster guy with tipped blond hair (Hipster, chubby, and frosted blond hair? Contraindications? You'd think) and his simpering, indecisive girlfriend at Laboratorio del Gelato and finally stomped off, sans chilly anything, because even in an ice cream store the A/C wasn't working for me.

Hot enough and sweaty enough that an afternoon at the Yanks game in the sun on Saturday was exhausting enough that we were unwilling to brave the Saturday night B&T influx and instead headed straight for the Angelika.

So sweaty and hot that after a Sunday pounding the pavement looking for apartment for rent signs in the still-Losaida area of the LES, we had to seek refuge in the second movie of the weekend, thus pitting the two hottest-to-trottest docs of the moment against each other for the box office kingship.

Saturday night was Rize, of David Lachapelle fame. Sunday was Murderball, of violent quad-rugby fame. Which was better? Hands down, Murderball.

While Lachapelle is a fantastically accomplished photographer and a focused music video director, he seems to be a victim of his own MTV generation. Rize is beautifully shot, the cinematography stunning, the colors saturated like they were leaking off the screen... This is what the introduction of Kodachrome must have felt like. But he couldn't hold his train of thought. One minute Watts is burning, the next Tommy the Clown is dancing. The contextual background to krumping is clowning, and clowning comes from the stripper dance, which comes from...? There are montages of African tribal dance, overdone and repetitive. He intersperses them with scenes of street dancing, and while drawing the unnecessarily obvious parallel visually, never explores the thematic or cultural connections. He shouldn't have- it would have been exhausting and trite, but he didn't need to use the same sepia wrestling clips multiple times either.

The thematic balance was simply dancing, and the narrative moved in three minute bursts, like endless music videos. An attempt to replicate onscreen the evident tension between krumpers and clowners falls flat, and Lachapelle loses interest in the lives of his dancers, preferring to shoot them, glistening in the California sun, in scenes that replicate the 'grittiness' of their environs. Boring and trite, the film is being lauded because it can't be torn apart. Despite the painful shortcomings of the director, the dancers evoke such power that each vacillation of the hips and thrust of the arms demands acclaim. Besides, it's not PC for the bourgeois liberal critics to pick on the kids from the ghetto, right?

Murderball, on the other hand, couldn't have been done as fiction. Losses, wins, heart attacks, defeat and defeat again, the lives of the players wrote themselves. The foil character emerges softer and kinder, the friends reconcile but not without pain, the only concession to sentimentality is the raw sobbing of a father proud of his son in defeat. The players don't struggle- they're athletes and could outlift and outdistance my able bodied ass- but they do fight, pushing harder and harder and the very determination of their fibers forcing viewers to not only confront what might frighten them- maimed and foreshortened legs and arms- but to behold with awe, respect, and profound esteem these players. It becomes embarassing to go on at length about how amazing it is, because that accents the disability and makes the ability seem extraordinary, which of course, it is. The players prefer to minimalize that aspect though, asking for nothing more and nothing less then complete parity. It is impossible not to feel ashamed that you would have ever thought otherwise.

The film itself follows a narrative arc that Rize lacked, the storied glory of Team USA, their loss to Team Canada, coached by a 'traitor,' the eventual Olympic upset that leaves both teams on the podium but neither clutching gold. The players personal lives are vivid and rich, candid about the circumstances of their disability, something able bodied people are often not. The subplot of a recently disabled extreme-sports athlete charts the beginning of the competitive process and the empowerment it enables, the coach of Team Canada shows the difficulty of phasing competition out of one's lifestyle. Tiptoeing along the edge of pain and avoiding the cliche of redemption, the film ends with the stories still unfinished, and the next Olympic match in Beijing three years away... And three years begins to seem like a really long time.

next up... tuxes vs. tuxes. let the mad hot feathers fly.


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