Local Color (1977)

14 04 2014

What are the things that make us sad, that disappoint us? The things that make us cover our faces because we’re exhausted and long for a bed to fall asleep in and hide from everything else? It might be failed relationships, the rent, hating your job, not having a job, paying the rent, or even death. Sometimes it’s none of these things, sometimes it’s just the crushing weight of our daily routines  This sounds like a rather heavy and ominous way to introduce a film, but Mark Rappaport’s Local Color is a study of that kind of exhaustation. Calling it listlessness seems like an understatement, for as much as Rappaport’s characters live and breathe in an exciting and functional world, it is that same world that severely limits their movements and censors their happiness.


Andrea and Andrew are twins, sometimes referred to as Andy and Andy who are both going through romantic troubles. Andrew’s boyfriend is more and more bewildered at home, and shows an increasing interest in the older women at the office. Andrea, on the other hand, is becoming bored with her husband Fred. For all we know, Fred is still interested in her, but Andrea wants to find something new. She flippantly tells her friend Viv that if a man walks up to her, she’ll gladly sleep with him. Meanwhile, Alvin and Lil are concerned about their teenage daughter and her promiscuity. Alvin’s fears manifest as jealousy as he proclaims a sexual interest in his daughter, perhaps specifically to alienate and frustrate his wife.


Perhaps it doesn’t even need to be mentioned but Local Color is a movie about the big things. It’s about the invisible forces that regulate and more importantly, limit our daily life. In a word, capitalism. Yes, that might not sound like the most original or interesting subject to criticize, but Rappaport does not formally display his politics like Jean-Luc Godard would. Sure, he has made a very stylized film here, but the film’s political points come from the personal, which are, in my personal opinion, two things that can never truly be separated. Sure, he is able to visualize what he identifies as symptoms of this existence (the glacier imagery at the beginning anticipates the restless movements of the protagonist) but the film’s central ideology isn’t projected through the words of the individuals. It’s instead revealed through their isolation, their inability to grieve, and their anxiety from life’s repetition.


Early on in the film, Andy’s boyfriend, Brian, tells us about Pangaea, the super-continent that once contained all of today’s seven continents as one land mass. He tells this to Lil who seems terrified by the idea that New York City was once below the equator, she even says “that’s scary.” “It’s exciting” responds Brian who goes on to suggest that there’s something exhilarating about a world that is constantly changing. Rappaport seems enamored by things that seem to be contradictions. The sadness of his protagonist might come from a world that is always the same, but one of these subjects literally tells us that the world is constantly changing. Both are true, which sounds like an intentionally obtuse idea. Instead, I would like to suggest that the repetition of our daily lives becomes even more upsetting when we’re forced to consider the way the world is constantly evolving. Our progress seems to be slower than the continents drifting in the place where they’re to be found today.


It would be fair for one to ask “so what the fuck is wrong with these people?” but no answer would do justice to the pressures that they and of course, we face from existing daily. Rappaport’s perspective is privileged, the film’s makeup is composed almost entirely of white young adults living in New York City. I understand the problem of his illustration, and how it limits the film’s universal reach. The characters here are not struggling to have food on the table, instead the food has become dull and tasteless. I think it’s important to acknowledge this difference in experience, because even though the frustration of the individuals in Local Color matches a malaise that I understand, but it doesn’t contain all of human suffering. Sure, we all suffer, but we don’t endure and experience the same thing and to suggest there is a universal experience threatens to erase the suffering voices who are below Rappaport’s characters on the social ladder.


With all of that said, I think Rappaport has made a film that attempts to achieve something universal. He’s attempting the same thing Yasujiro Ozu did with Tokyo Story weaving together a fully formed portrait of something heartbreaking within a critique of our capitalism. Ozu’s film, a canonized arthouse classic that has been discussed endlessly, is seldom seen as a political film. For me, though, it is one of the most damning critiques ever committed to film, if only because it’s dissection of capitalism is embedded in a story that deals with death, something that is “deeper” than the system that regulates and oppresses us daily. Ozu’s film is so crucial because it shows these dilemmas as related. Rappaport’s film tries to do the same thing and he doesn’t exactly fail, but his vision ends up working as smoothly as Ozu’s. It’s less a criticism because I am holding it up to the standard of one of the best films of all-time, and more just a description of how everything comes together for Rappaport: sometimes his protagonist are too perfectly in tune with these invisible forces. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with some deadpan, theory-talk. The fact that the protagonists are wise and eloquent enough to pinpoint and describe the very things that are causing them such anguish is the one thing that gives us hope for their and our fight for happiness.




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