Picks and Pans Review: Home of the Brave

UPDATED 06/02/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/02/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT

True, this is a musical film. But don't expect The Sound of Music, Shall We Dance? or Grease. Don't expect a concert film either, though it's closer to that than anything else, except perhaps the visualization of a dream. The movie was written and directed by, and stars, multimedia performer Laurie Anderson, and whatever else it is, it's fascinating. Shot over 10 days at a Union City, N.J. theater last summer, the film focuses on Anderson's singing, dancing and recitations. But all kinds of things are going on. People walk around onstage wearing robotlike masks that make them resemble C-3PO. A rear-stage screen shows a succession of images ranging from a grocery list to a giant radar antenna. Cadaverous Beat novelist William Burroughs comes out and does a macabre jitterbug with Anderson. Anderson telephones her keyboard player, Joy Askew, who is standing just across the stage, to discuss the next bit. What's surprising is how cohesive all these elements seem; they're related in mood and attitude if not in substance. What's more, Anderson and her choreography consultant, Wendy Perron, appear to have planned every movement with relentless precision. The stylized percussionist David Van Tieghem, for instance, is as much a kinetic presence as a musical one, and even Burroughs' doddering seems precisely calculated. Anderson herself is an entrancing dancer, seductive and oddly menacing; at times she has the demeanor of a stalking tiger, smiling as she waits for her next meal. Her composing and singing are sly and satirical, if rarely direct: "Hey look! Over there!/ It's Frank Sinatra/ Sitting in a chair./ And he's blowing/ Perfect smoke rings/ Up into the air. And he's singing:/ Smoke makes a staircase for you/ To descend. So rare." The film bogs down in the middle, due mostly to Korean musician Sang Won Park, whose performance seems alien even in this anarchic context. And Anderson would have a hard time making a case that the film successfully uses technology to criticize itself (as she has said it does). Her argument is so impressionistic—the thesis is never really stated—it could easily slip by unnoticed. That hardly matters though. The sounds and shapes with which she fills this movie make it a primarily sensual experience. Thinking about it just gets in the way of the enjoyment. (No rating)

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