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Audrey Kupferberg: The Photograph And The Public

Motion pictures take us in many different directions.  Through our viewing experiences, we see parts of the world to which we will never travel and meet people with eccentricities we will never otherwise encounter.  Sometimes a film will be about the places to which we have traveled and about people who are very much the same as ourselves or the folks in the next town over.  When done right, the characters and storylines in those films can be as engaging and at times even as explosive as more imaginative and exotic movies.

The Photograph, written and directed by Stella Meghie and released in February of this year, stars Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield.  The story involves three generations of people of color living in Louisiana and New York City, the work or lifestyles that matter most to them, and the way they handle love when it comes along.  Most interesting is the modern story, focusing on Mae Morton, assistant curator of the Queens Museum, and writer/reporter Michael Block. 

Their paths collide when Michael is writing a feature article about Isaac Jefferson, a seafood fisherman in Louisiana.  He comes across a photograph of Christine Eames, Mae’s mother, at Isaac’s home, and from that point, the broken narratives of three generations of love affairs unfold in a relaxed and tranquil fashion.

Mae and Michael have the most onscreen time.  Both are successful in their professions and incredibly appealing, but both have a problem when it comes to expressing their wants and needs to each other—something from which the older generations of the chronicle also suffer.  As they attempt to begin a relationship that promises to be of some significance, the viewer witnesses their attempts to blend two human natures, two complicated personalities, into one solid liaison. 

The Photograph brings its audience into an intimate connection with the main characters. That certainly can be attributed to Meghie’s writing and direction. On top of that, the music score is outstanding.  On the whole, it’s a pleasure to see a film that centers on the subtle notes of the characters’ dispositions.

Another film that concentrates on the wants and needs of a small group is the 2019 release, The Public, written, directed, and starring Emilio Estevez. Again, the storyline is intimate but quite exciting.  It takes place on a freezing night in Cincinnati.  The shelters are overloaded and refuse to take any more homeless people. 

A group of twenty or more destitute folks gather inside the library after closing .  They include people who spend most of their days at the library in an attempt to avoid perishing in the wintery weather and to make use of all that the library offers in the way of entertaining pastimes.  They decide to stage an overnight sleep-in at the library.  They simply want to have a shelter from the cold.

Things get complicated.  Soon the police arrive.  Members of the press set up media vans at the library entrance.  Meanwhile, a detective, played by Alec Baldwin, searches for his son who has fallen prey to drugs and has hit the streets.  Still, aside from all the hubbub, The Public offers a relatively uncomplicated story about peoples’ personalities and the current human condition.  There are thoughtful folks.  There are self-centered, mean-spirited louses. 

The plot of The Public plays out over the course of only a few hours, and it doesn’t take long for individuals to establish on which side of good and evil they fall.  The Public isn’t much of a talked-about film, but it has won a few regional awards.  The reviews have been mixed, but this film offers a worthwhile story and has characters who demonstrate the current challenges that many in our communities face.

Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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