Monday, November 27, 2006

Me and My Brother (1969)

Between this and Cocksucker Blues, I don't think that Robert Frank and I are on the same wavelength. Given his background in photography, it makes sense that Frank would make films whose formal aspects reflect their subjects; the films I've seen of his, though, are all too effective in this aim. Me and My Brother, a kinda-sorta-documentary, has as its subject Julius Orlovsky, brother to poet Peter Orlovsky and diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. Frank starts off with a freeform, overtly impressionistic documentary portrait of Julius and the world around him -- this is a rare film in that it's defined more by the absence of its subject than his presence -- and it's here that the film maintains a modest level of interest. Then Frank splits the narrative apart by expanding the meta-cinematic strain used in the film's first scene, hiring an actor to 'play' Julius while someone else (a young Christopher Walken, no less) portrays Frank. This breaking-down of the line between the real and the fake, coupled with the overlapping sound design where the soundtrack often doesn't match the action, lagging behind or jumping forward as it needs to, feels appropriate given Julius's condition. However, it makes for a strange experience -- the film has no center and no drive, and there's nothing to which it seems to be building. It moseys around this way and that (what the hell's up with the extended sequence involving the actress?); there's a final scene where Julius, finally lucid, is interviewed that almost makes the journey worthwhile, but the volume of extraneous footage crushes the interesting intentions and the occasional stretch of brilliance. Frank's approach carries with it the implicit admittance that understanding Julius's mind is an impossibility. In accepting that he's shut out from his subject, he then shuts us out from his film.

Grade: C+


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