J. and I did a dollar double-feature last night. U.T. does a free movie night (weekly? monthly? I can't remember) at the student union. Last night was Spike Lee's first film, She's Gotta Have It, which somehow I missed the first time around. From there we went to the Alamo for Music Monday, which is $2, but half price for Austin Film Society members (J.) and students (me, maybe, for now).
The professor who introduced She's Gotta Have It, with a personal anecdote about his friendship with Spike Lee, talked about the film like it was a recently unearthed prehistoric artifact, which felt appropriate since most of the audience were probably born after it was made. And it did look a little prehistoric, all grainy and streaked and out of focus. (I don't know if it was a bad print, or if the original film looked distressed.)
If I had chanced upon this film without knowing its history and cultural importance, I'm sure I would have thought it was just, well, bad. When J. and I were discussing it on the way out, I said that maybe, with our theater background, our expectations of acting and dialog in a film are different from those of the average film buff, or film student or academic. Acting and writing (as in the words that are spoken) are a starting point for me. If they're bad -- and I know these judgments are subjective, but I also think it would be hard to argue that the actors are not extremely self-conscious and awkward in this film, partly because of their lack of skill but also because the dialog is so stilted -- I have a hard time seeing much else.
I can intellectually know that this film was revolutionary at the time -- because it dealt with black people's lives and women's sexuality in a way that was new in American films, etc. -- but boy it doesn't seem to me that it has held up very well after only twenty years.
One thing about it that kept my interest was the Brooklyn setting. I lived with my first long-term boyfriend in a run-down, ramshackle floor-through apartment in Fort Greene at that time (from 1984 - 1989), so the scenes that were shot in Fort Greene Park and on the Fulton Mall made me flush with nostalgia. It looked in the film exactly like it looks in my memories.
Back then, Fort Greene was a very mixed bag: majestic, tree-lined blocks of single-family brownstones in which middle-class black families had lived for generations, next to some of the most severe urban blight I've ever seen. That neighborhood is now one of the most expensive and desirable urban neighborhoods in the country. (I'm one of those homosexual artists who move into neighborhoods before they're safe and can't afford to stay once they become safe.)
Next, a documentary about the Smiths. Sometimes the crowd is sparse for Music Monday, but this one was sold out. I guess the Smiths are pretty hot with the kids.
When I worked as a waiter at Bandito, a Mexican restaurant on Second Avenue in the early eighties (this was when Tex-Mex and Margaritas were just starting to become sort of trendy in New York), the bartenders played great music, and that was often where I first heard new stuff. I remember once the bartender asking if I had heard REM (I hadn't) and he described them as "like the Smiths, but American." They seem so different now, but at the time I think there was a similarity in the sound, and certainly in the feyness of their lead singers.
The doc was good. It was made for the BBC, traditional talking head format (with some bizarre animation for the clips of Morrisey, I assume because he wouldn't allow his face to be included in the show). The doc itself was just an hour long, so they augmented it with some of the original music videos, which I think was unnecessary. The videos were cut into the film, interrupting the pace of the story in a way that made it seem overly long.
It was great to hear the songs again. I had their records, and my friends and I listened to them a lot back then, but I didn't replace them when I got rid of all my LPs. My favorite thing -- and I'm not sure it was a part of the original doc -- was a short film (a music video, really) by Derek Jarman of "The Queen is Dead."
I'm amazed by how much obviously gay pop music made it into the clueless mainstream back then. This stuff was not exactly coded. I guess it was a subject people at the time were still more or less terrified of, so they didn't even see it when it was right in front of their noses.
I saw Morrisey live once, at a big outdoor venue in New York, probably not long after the Smiths broke up. His opening act was Phranc, the lesbian folk comedy singer-songwriter. My friends and I all sort of liked Phranc, even though she was pretty hokey, because she looked like a Beach Boy and sang songs about crushes on girls in gym class. But Morrisey's audience didn't like her at all. She played her entire set, just her and her guitar, to boos and shouts of "get off the stage." I was horrified.
I expected Morrisey to say something about it when he came out for his set. I guess I wanted him to reprimand the audience or something, but he didn't acknowledge what had happened. After that, I lost interest in him.