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Rough and Tumble | The Nation

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Rough and Tumble

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You will notice it's a strikingly nocturnal movie. As if to emphasize Brandon Teena's self-invention, his disregard for his origins and even his anatomy, the film keeps posing its characters against the field of the night sky, which is photographed to seem depthless and utterly black. Everything is foreground for Brandon (the almost painfully vivid Hilary Swank), whose movie-life begins on the night he cuts his hair short and stuffs a pair of socks down his shorts. Everything is foreground for Lana (Chloe Sevigny), Falls City's would-be tough girl, who gets bombed every night so she won't notice she's working at the canning factory; everything is foreground for John (Peter Sarsgaard) and Tom (Brendon Sexton III), the onetime jailbirds whose only occupation is to hang around Lana, and who have a little problem with "impulse control."

About the Author

Stuart Klawans
The Nation's film critic Stuart Klawans is author of the books Film Follies: The Cinema Out of Order (a finalist for...

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A more apt comparison would be between the surviving staff of the satirical magazine and the brave abortion providers who carried on after the murder of Dr. George Tiller.

Much of the pathos of Boys Don't Cry lies in Brandon's flailing efforts to imitate these guys. What other form of manhood is available to him to copy? Though born in a university town, he's among the majority of Americans who never get to college. His information on sexual identity comes from cheap pamphlets. His friendships are formed in bars. With or without a pair of socks stuffed down his shorts, he's going to find life passing quickly, as the clouds or river or highway lights in Boys Don't Cry sometimes run at triple time.

In this world outside the movies, Brandon Teena aspired to be like his killers. These men were real. They didn't need a fight club.

Given a magazine to fill and not just a column, I would find words sufficient to praise David Riker's The City (La Ciudad). The product of five years' work among immigrant communities in New York City, the film is simultaneously a documentary and a fiction: a record of faces and streets, housing projects and factories; a web of stories about hard-pressed Spanish-speaking people trying to make lives in the North.

The Manhattan skyline is always far away for these characters. A day laborer, lonely for his wife and son back home, might glimpse the skyscrapers in the distance from the rubble-strewn lot where he works, salvaging bricks for 15 cents apiece. A newcomer from Mexico, still full of optimism, wouldn't know where to look for the famous buildings, so lost does he get amid housing projects and his hope for love. A homeless man, a puppeteer by trade, camps out in a station wagon with the daughter he's afraid of losing, while Wall Street looms across the bay. A sweatshop worker, unpaid for two weeks and desperate for cash, might catch a view of Manhattan from the elevated train, if she weren't caught up in her prayers.

Most of these characters are played by nonprofessionals, whose performances before Riker's camera intertwine with a framing device. Throughout The City, we see ordinary folks come into a photo studio under the el to sit for their portraits. The poses are not at all realistic; but they adequately represent these people's ideas of themselves. So, too, do the film's four little stories touch on a hard reality, within the stately, elegiac fiction of The City.

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