Friday, September 30, 2016

NY Film Festival 2016: Ava DuVernay's THE 13TH


 **THE 13TH

Ava DuVernay's breathlessly explosive documentary THE 13TH burrows into the devastating and heartbreaking legacy of racial injustice, incarceration and sanctioned murders of African Americans throughout US history - and even as this essential documentary plays out on screen this week, as the first ever documentary with the extraordinary acclaim as Opening Night feature of the NY Film Festival.

The director of the Oscar nominated Civil Rights Movement drama SELMA, has created with THE 13TH a simultaneously explosively informative and emotionally spellbinding documentary that is a crushing indictment of the 13th Amendment of the title. Presumably ending slavery but in fact reviving the brutal horrors through its disgraceful escape clause - "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime" - leading to the millions in 'monetized' mass incarceration in the multi-billion dollar accelerating corporate prisons for profit, and slave labor for consumer goods corporations. Exploiting  inmate slavery fed by the nationwide criminalization of the African American community - when not their outright slaughter across the nation today. And slavery in fact not ended, but 'redesigned' to enrich corporations.

LISTEN TO THE SHOW HERE

And by extension, a concept as well that with the increasingly essential and critical importance of documentaries like THE 13TH, that the Oscars will hopefully recognize this film category's importance. And that documentaries should and must take their place to qualify for awards in the Best Film and Best Director categories in the future.


**NY FILM FESTIVAL EXPLORATIONS SECTION: THE DEATH OF LOUIS XIV

Though human beings born without privilege or status tend to take meager comfort in the inevitability that everyone is eventually equal in death, that path leading to mortality may very well be a different matter behind closed doors. And though Catalan writer/director Albert Serra is more than obsessed in making this grim when not satirical point about the terminally ill invalid French Sun King in The Death Of Louis XIV, this somewhat too much information death bed drama tends to instill less reflection than audience fatigue.

Which is not to say that the visual canvas up on the screen isn't sumptuously crafted with the splendor of its delicately delineated imagery, even while the main subject of the narrative in contrast slowly rots away from untreated, very probably diabetes precipitated gangrene. But as with many such cinematically conceived landscapes favoring a preference for reflection over action, unfortunately films are not paintings. But which by peculiar coincidence tends to repeatedly elicit that notion about watching paint dry instead of a movie.

Eminent French actor Jean-Pierre Leaud is hardly the one at fault here, doing his best to breathe life into a 72 year old man who barely has any left in him. And for whom that eternal notion of celebrity surrounding him is beginning to be progressively diminished into a meaningless concept, until he can't even bear the intolerable odor of his own flash rotting away - while the worshipful attending to him, servants and doctors, are the ones into incorrigibly oblivious denial.

And including bizarre scenes where they continue to attempt to feed a man obviously descended into a coma preceding death if not already arrived there, repeatedly wiping away the food rendered impossible to enter his shuttered mouth - as if they were just accidental morsels surrounding his lips. And with an ironic hand-wringing medical concurrence kicking in, that the monarch's life could quite likely have been saved with a limb amputation, but such an act could not be blasphemously imposed on one deemed a godly, celestial figure.

While throughout this 115 minute long running time bedside vigil, the characters displaying far greater endurance than we do within this extreme reality check-free zone ordeal, is not a good sign. Though competing doctors opportunistically vying for court favoritism based predominantly on a varied treatment menu comprising everything from quackery to wishful thinking, is fairly relatable in the here and now, rather than a conceptual relic from the distant past.

Prairie Miller

THE 13TH will open in theaters and be available to a mass audience simultaneously on Netflix. And more information about The 13TH and  The Death Of Louis XIV at the NY Film Festival, is online at FilmLinc.org.

Arts Express: Thursdays 2pm ET: Airing on WBAI Radio in NY 99.5 FM, and streaming live and archived everywhere at wbai.org.