Academy Awards qualifying time has now crept into what used to be the sleepy month for movies. So, August brings an abundance of quality movies.
LET’S GO TO THE MOVIES!
The Butler dir Lee Daniels
As the nation is still reeling from the after effects of the verdict in the Trayvon Martin trial and is coming to terms with the realization that racial profiling creates a huge risk for youth of color Lee Daniels steps up and answers back to the false reality projected by the award-winning film The Help about the lives of blacks in the South.
The Butler is based on the true life story of Eugene Allen. He worked at the White House as a staff member from 1952 to 1986, rising from “pantry boy” to the highest staff position of chief butler. Danny Strong’s resourceful script coversthe legacy of slavery and the impact of emancipation on black Americans as they became part of the US underclass and today are still stigmatized by the mental branding of slave culture – the rise from slavery to the complicated race relations that exist today even with a black President in the White House.
Using a docudrama form, Daniels raises the stakes in myth dispelling through truth telling as he paints the ancestral history of plantation life and the master-landowner ability to both depersonalize and sexualize the “negro” and the
exploitation of a human being for his/her own use. We see early on how casual the power over life and death is implemented. We see the making of what some would call an “Uncle Tom” when a field “nigga” is brought into the home as a “house nigga” as Vanessa Redgrave brings to life a patrician, a benevolent, racist plantation mistress.
Forest Whitaker plays Eugene Allen with the subservient demeanor of the good negro. Daniels’ uses the life of Allen as a fictionalized template to show how blacks have been treated by white people. By being invisible, under the smile and “yes sir,” it is similar to Booker Wright in the documentary Booker’s Place : a Mississippi Storydepicting the Deep South.
Allen is all service and no opinion at the White House. He knows his place as do the other black butlers including Cuba Gooding, Jr, and Lenny Kravitz. He brings this same contained inner life to the world of his family. Oprah Winfrey plays his booze loving, flirtatious but tenacious, family- loving, black matriarch with two sons to raise in Washington D.C. where race rules are still played out but with less transparency than in the Deep South.
The Butler moves back and forth between Allen’s professional life – his rise in the butler hierarchy through a succession of presidents including JFK, Johnson, Nixon, and Reagan (and the delicious, audience-pleasing game of who is playing who by stars such as Robin Williams, James Marsden, John Cusack, Alan Rickman, Liev Schreiber and some of their wives including an anorexic Nancy Reagan, played with what must have been an inner hoot by Jane Fonda, and Minka Kelly as a disturbingly real Jackie Kennedy) – and his home life with a loving but bored wife and two sons.
Daniels, with great skill, seamlessly moves through critical arch of historical moments by bringing alive through vivid actor portraits and archival footage the Kennedy and King assassinations, the rise of black power and Malcolm X. A timeline when his sons were coming of age, his oldest son finds himself becoming a freedom rider and eventually a Black Panther follower. The son’s politics are in direct opposition to the choices his father made to survive and provide for his family. As this tension flares up, it does not overtake the thematic movement of The Butler. This father/son relationship is what roots the film in a narrative tradition rather than documentary storytelling and opens the door for millions of ordinary people to enjoy and find those parts of this specific story that triggers their own experiences. This is popular culture making at its best.
The Butler is the must see film this fall and possibly the best movie of the year. Never didactic but always on target. Daniels delivers a history lesson that is perhaps the best portrait of race in America popular culture has seen since Birth of a Nation. It is a history lesson that not only reveals the reality of what actually happened but, most importantly, reveals the emotional life of its subjects.
Lovelace dirs. Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman.
The birth control pill freed women from the tyranny of their body and gave them choice over sexual pleasure. It also made for a world that fundamentally changed the mating game. The rules had been that good girls do not fellate or god forbid put out until they were married. This drove men crazy. The pill changed everything. Women were free to use their bodies for pleasure and men took full advantage of this new freedom, resulting in many cases where women had even less right to say no than they did under the old rules. In the early ‘70s, despite women’s liberation, a porn based aesthetical representation of women and their bodies emerged.
It is against this background that Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman tell the story of the first aboveground porn star, Linda Lovelace and her worldwide fame as the woman who could.Epstein and Friedman’s background as Academy Award documentary filmmakers and their learning adventure into narrative filmmaking (Howl) mesh into a triumph of historical and critical pop culture storytelling.
Threading through a seedy, steamy story of the dark side of the porn industry and its exploitation of women against the Nixon years of puritanical outrage and a sanctimonious push for censorship, Lovelace dramatically exposes the modification of moral values and the implicit commodification of sexual freedom for profit.
Linda Lovelace is a would-be actress who falls in love with the wrong kind of men and will do anything to please them. For $200 to pay the rent, she stars in a porn movie for a mafia-related porn director and graphically performs oral sex that will forever change what men will expect from women regardless of what a woman wants or needs.
Against a cheesy Technicolor landscape ofMiami and San Fernando Valley’s tacky glamour and an appropriately almost but not too overheated script by Andy Bellin, we meet a cast up to the demands of representing a world not as glamorous as the people in it think. Amanda Seyfried is perfectly cast because of her voluptuous body and over ripe lips.
One performance steals the film and should win her an Academy Award nomination. Unrecognizable as Linda Lovelace’s ultra conservative Florida mother is Sharon Stone. Hers is the real indelible performance in the film.Both the art direction and costumes are point perfect.
Lovelaceis a timely meditation on sexual freedom and the commodification of the body. Epstein and Friedman have their fingers on the pulse of America.
(CC) JIM FOURATT