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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.11%
Worth A Look: 11.11%
Just Average66.67%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 11.11%

1 review, 3 user ratings

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Tongues Untied
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by John Smith

3 stars

And like COMMON THREADS , the great strength of this documentary is how the chosen film making style complements the content.

At first, it does not even appear to be a documentary. Overlaid onto choreographed dance sequences are verbal chants, themselves edited and "chopped" together to become rhythms and music. Interviewees, later credited as "cast" members, speak in contrived poetry, which, while beautiful, is clearly not spontaneous conversation. They look straight into the camera - they are performing.

But we learn that the subject, black gay men, come from their own cultural space, and feel disconnected from the mainstream. A traditional filmmaking style would be an alienating imposition onto the subject, making their story merely a curious little subset of the mainstream, like something off CNN, with a female journalist in a headscarf, looking down glumly on a distant refugee camp. Using a style that "is of" the subject, in this case the unique rhythms of language and secrets of gay African American culture gives the film a resonant sense of "realness". It is unnerving at first, but ultimately powerfully effective.

Other documentaries I have looked at align subject and style to great effect. This film takes this a step further. It suggests that the language of film can be adjusted to the language of gay African American life. Despite its unconventional style, the film is perfectly cohesive, narratively, emotionally and otherwise. Is the language of film, which has had few influential African American practitioners, "white"? The convergence of sound and image in this film seem strange because they are so filmically unconventional. It is almost like an experimental film.

However, the same can be said for the African American vernacular. Black "street" talk, and the trends that have emerged from urban black gay life, such as "vogueing" and finger snapping, mark that culture’s distinctions from the mainstream. They have also become marks of pride – identification with one’s own, and a defiant assertion of one’s own culture in the face of assimilation.

Riggs’ use of extreme close up, in some cases so extreme the edges of faces are cut off by the sides of the screen, echoes his "in your face" presentation of material. This is an honest, daring look at gay African American life. The film’s style challenges the viewer to watch and listen in a new way.

It overlays the content of the film, redoubling its effectiveness. It is not a film where the style is merely complementary to the subject.

In this case, style stands shoulder to shoulder with content, ensuring the viewer get the message colourfully, vividly, and in no uncertain terms.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=5893&reviewer=305
originally posted: 04/22/02 08:22:22
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User Comments

2/28/04 Kristen beautiful. SNAP! 4 stars
7/11/03 Greg Hamilton Excellent documentary that reveals a lot about the Black gay community. Highly recommended. 5 stars
4/29/03 Carrie obscene, even chanting vulgarity does get old, 1/2 through I was bored 1 stars
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Directed by
  Marlon Riggs

Written by

  Essex Hemphill

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