By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
One hundred years ago, Kodak introduced the Brownie, selling 250,000 of the cameras in the first year at a dollar a pop and changing the way in which history was recorded and, as a result, what history was recorded. With the means of commemoration made widely available, humankind began to build an unsentimental record of ordinary, non-aristocratic life, unmediated by artists or social workers. Now the home video camera has been added to the equation -- if one picture is worth a thousand words, we are now living in truly logorrheic times -- and with the relatively low cost and simultaneously increasing sophistication and compactness of the equipment, anyone who really wants to make a movie now can make one. And while on the one hand this means there‘s a lot more crap in the river of culture, it also means that subjects that once would have been considered insufficiently serious, or insufficiently bankable, are getting their due.
La Boda, Hannah Weyer’s documentary about the days leading up to the wedding of a migrant farm girl and her beau, airing this week on the PBS series P.O.V., is the sort of film that in a pre-Handycam world could easily never have been made. It isn‘t Harvest of Shame; and, though it is inevitably “political,” given the milieu, it’s only incidentally so -- as when bride-to-be Elizabeth displays her birth certificate, ratty and soft from having been folded and unfolded a thousand times to prove her citizenship. “I wanted to portray all that this community has rather than what they lack,” Weyer has said, and she‘s painted a picture of a respectable, often misapprehended working class, a picture fairly subversive, at least as television entertainment, in the sense that the subjects’ notions of success have more to do with community and continuity than with big-score material gain. Though Weyer is an NYU film school grad with an indie feature (Arresting Gena) under her belt and the certifiably groovy production team of Michael Stipe and Jim McKay lurking there somewhere in the background, La Boda is still very much a work of shoestring economy, and looks on the whole not unlike the sort of wedding videos that are being produced by friends and relations of the bridegroom most every day most everywhere in the world; it‘s noisy, shaky, visually inelegant. But it’s been assembled with an intelligent eye: Weyer shows you things worth seeing and, just as important, knows when to move on to the next thing. And unlike (I am guessing) most official wedding documents, it isn‘t overwhelmed by the occasion: It’s unusually honest about the fear, the tension, the waiting, the not-knowing that precedes and attends the tying of a knot.
At the same time, it retains an intimate, home-movie informality. There is no attempt to make the camera an invisible observer: Weyer speaks, is spoken to. In one memorable passage, a younger sister makes faces right up against the lens as the bride is glimpsed intermittently behind her, sitting lost in thought in what the next day will no longer be her room. (Her sisters will be sleeping two to a bed instead of three. “Relief!” cries one.) And as in home movies and snapshots, the details that define a world gather around the edges, or pass swiftly through the frame: the steam coming off a cup of coffee in the dark morning as the family heads off to work, the bright colors of a Mexican street, a corps of stuffed animals overlooking a bed. There are images enough of the working life of the migrant, but these are incidental to what is essentially a love story, in which that life‘s economic limits are matched -- and this is really the point of the piece -- and overmatched, at least for a moment, by the illimitability of the heart.
It’s a lovely little movie, ambitious in a small way about big things and really very moving. By the end, you feel that you‘ve been somewhere, somewhere you could not have exactly predicted, and have been broadened in the way that travel is supposed to broaden you -- that is, your expectations will have been confounded, your prejudices undermined -- and that you have seen something of how other people live, and how like it is the way you live, and how very unlike. That it’s a big old small world after all. Television really can‘t do much more for you.
And in most cases it does so much less. Mexican-American family life is also the subject of Resurrection Boulevard, a new drama from Showtime. But nothing about the show’s two-hour pilot film feels in the least genuine -- notwithstanding that creator Dennis E. Leoni (who used to write for The Commish) says the show was “inspired by my own family experiences growing up in Tucson, Arizona,” and that the house in which the Santiago family lives is, according to press materials, “based on an actual historical 1910 SearsCraftsman structure found in East Los Angeles.” As the first dramatic TV series “to feature Latinos prominently both in front of and behind the camera,” as Showtime is proud to announce, one wishes it well. (CBS recently rejected the pilot for Gregory Nava‘s An American Family, which would have been the first Latino family drama on network TV.) I am all for affirmative action in television: It’s no secret that white people -- white men, mostly -- run the business, and the businesses that affect the business, and the complexion of what airs overwhelmingly reflects theirs. The only problem, really -- which I suppose one could still see as an advance -- is that it is just such a . . . TV show, with all the lack of vision and depth that term implies.
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