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Friday, October 18, 2013

October 18, 2013: John Sayles’ America: Five Runners-Up

[I’ve already blogged quite a lot about John Sayles. A whole lot, in fact. But when it comes to the filmmaker who to my mind has most consistently engaged with AmericanStudies questions, there’s plenty more to say. So this week, I’ll AmericanStudy five more Sayles films. I’d love to hear your thoughts, on these films and others that say AmericanStudies to you!]
Okay, so I lied about only focusing on five films this week. When you’re dealing with an abundance of riches, sometimes you have to share the wealth, y’know? So to round out the Sayles series, here are briefer AmericanStudies takes on five more films (not covered either in those above links or earlier in the week—what can I say, the man has had quite a career!):
1)      Lianna (1983): Sayles’ second film was way ahead of its time, dealing with issues of gay identity and community in America long before those were comfortable topics for communal conversation. That it’s far more in the quiet character-study vein than the overt political-statement one is also to its credit.
2)      Limbo (1999): I’ll freely admit that this follow-up to Lone Star (my favorite Sayles film) and Men with Guns really irritated me due to its extremely open-ended ending (guess I should have thought about the title more). But in retrospect, that ending, and much else in the film, fits perfectly with its overall depiction of characters, place, and moment all caught in between past and future, and unsure of what’s next.
3)      Sunshine State (2002): You can’t tell the story of 21st century America without thinking about themes of development—economic and environmental, geographic and communal, urban and suburban. I don’t know of any film that better addresses those issues, while still creating characters as rich and interesting as in any Sayles movie. Plus Timothy Hutton!
4)      Casa de los Babys (2003): Similarly, I don’t know of too many American films that address our complex contemporary relationship to Latin America—and this story of a group of women waiting to adopt orphaned babies in an unnamed Latin American city does so very well, while maximizing the talents of its six female stars.
5)      Honeydripper (2007): One of Sayles’ more genuinely historical films (ie, not just about the past, but set in it), this portrayal of the Jim Crow South at the intersection of blues and rock and roll manages to avoid nearly all the obvious racial or social cliches in favor of a more unique and compelling story of tradition, change, and their complex interplay in mid-20th century America.
Special post this weekend,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Other films you’d especially AmericanStudy?

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