Friday, April 7, 2017

Range Rover

If ever anyone wanted to understand the range of my taste, today would have been the day.

To start, it's the first day of the 24th annual James River Film Festival, which means kicking off a whirlwind of films between now and Sunday night, many of which call to me.

The first to get my seat in a chair was at the Main Library for the 1954 cinematic treasure (so says the Library of Congress' Film Registry and now that I've visited, I trust their judgment) made by a producer and director both blacklisted as part of the Hollywood 10 for refusing to name names.

Because of that, film labs refused to process the film and after a week, theaters refused to run the film about an actual 1951 mine strike in New Mexico.

Told neo-realistically with the director using a mixture of professional actors (including Grandpa Walton aka Will Geer, of whom host Mike Jones noted, "Grandpa Walton was a Communist" with delight) and local people - miners and their wives - for the cast, the film lacked any shallow Hollywood veneer.

And talk about ahead of its time.

What was completely surprising were the strong feminist themes as miners' wives fought for a voice in what the miners should strike for in addition to better working conditions and pay (say, indoor plumbing and hot water), but also in being allowed to physically walk the picket lines once an injunction rules that miners who strike would be arrested.

Watching these '50s-era Mexican immigrant women find their voices and take charge of the strike situation was positively inspiring. Matter of fact, the only thing more impressive was the women's expectations at neighborhood get-togethers: they'd make dinner and clean up while the men talked and played cards.

But after that, everyone knew the men were expected to dance with their wives for the remainder of the evening (even if they danced badly, the men, that is) to the radio. Or to a guitar player if it happened to be the night the radio got repossessed in front of all your friends.

So right out of the gate, the JRFF had fed my taste for American social history, early feminism, neo-realism filmmaking and it was only dinnertime.

That meant a trip to the VMFA to meet an out-of-town friend for a few hours before it was time for another film.

For me, taking the scenic route through the museum to get to the restaurant means cutting through the early 20th-century European gallery and midway though them, I saw a nerdy-handsome security guard engrossed in an Emil Nolde painting.

Teasing him about that being a perk of the job, he corrected me at once, "No, that's why I took this job." I liked him already.

Arriving at Amuse first, I scored a couple of mid-century chairs facing the majestic sunset resulting from today's bizarre revolving door of fronts - it's warm and humid, no it's cool and windy, wait, it's warm and drizzly - ordered a hibiscus lemonade of the most gorgeous pink hue and apologized to the older couple in the chairs across from me for interrupting their little cocktail hour.

The bartender was wearing a maxi dress as groovy as the chairs, complete with round holes the size of a quarter all over, making parts of the legs and shoulders visible through the holes. When she mentioned that she was getting the holes stuck on everything, I suggested that the problem was that the dress would be better worn at a party rather than work.

On the other hand, when you have a dress that cute, how can you not wear it?

Once my friend arrived, we moved so we both had a view of the sunset's cloud juggernaut over the former home for Confederate women, only bothering to look at the menu once our server had come back three times.

Creamy white bean soup with Tasso ham and scallions seemed particularly suited to the suddenly cooler temperatures and I followed that with a glass of Rose and a salad of beets, almonds, bleu cheese, pea shoots and mixed greens with an onion vinaigrette, while my companion stuck to variations on a French 75, citing a difficult week.

By the time the clock said that I needed to get to a movie, I'd been characterized as a life explorer, a Renaissance woman and someone unable to live anywhere but a walkable city with a plethora of options on all fronts.

To quote Bing Crosby, guilty as charged, I guess.

After goodnights and dropping off the auto at home, I walked over to the Grace Street Theater for what is easily this year's festival's finest movie title by a long shot: "Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red In It," essentially a Nigerian remake of "Purple Rain," the clunky title a result of there being no word for "purple" in the Tuareg language.

As soon as I got to the lobby, I found familiar faces: the photographer, the world DJ, the record store owner, the Bollywood DJ, the writer, the pariah, the record collector, the metalhead, the power pop singer. As someone joked, it was all the cool kids, but really, he meant all the middle aged dudes and a couple of women.

Truth be told, not everyone's schedule allows for a 9:30 movie screening on a Thursday night, even one with multiple hooks.

Too bad for them because the film borrowed heavily from Prince's debut - troubled relationship with father, love interest who throws jewelry, envious fellow musicians, purple motorcycle - while being completely original given that it involved nomadic Africans who trade pop music gems on their cellphones as a way to hear what's new and happening.

Our hero even wore purple, albeit what looked like shiny purple African pajamas with flip-flops, which, by the way, is also what he wore to ride his motorcycle around the desert.

And of course the soundtrack was phenomenal, merging Hendrix-like electric guitar with traditional Tuareg music for something George Harrison would probably have loved.

So my second film of the day had satisfied my music lust, fulfilled my appreciation for DIY filmmaking and provided an African cultural lesson.

As for that range, it's only a long way from feminist communism to left-handed guitars if you don't go by way German-Danish painters.

Just ask any Renaissance woman.

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