A very strange thing.
It’s set on the New York subway. Based on a play. Filmed in England in a studio set with a few cutaways of the real subway. Actually the sense of place is really convincing, and butts up against the theatricality in a way that’s quite nice. Shouldn’t work but does.
DUTCHMAN, the first film directed by editor Anthony Harvey, who went on to adapt THE LION IN WINTER and THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS. It’s written by LeRoi Jones, who later became as Amiri Baraka. The subject is race and sex and power. Is that more than one subject? Not according to this film. It stars Al Freeman Jnr and Shirley Knight, and it’s terrifying. I shoved it in the DVD player as a diversion as we were almost but not quite ready to sleep and the thing is an odd length, 55 minutes. It’s a miracle we were able to sleep afterwards.
Knight is electrifying. She’s beautiful, but one doesn’t particularly think of her as a sexy actress, more just a really good one (PETULIA, THE GROUP) who really should be more celebrated. Here, she plays an overheated sexuality that’s quite worrying (Fiona found it very scary indeed) because it’s so inappropriate and demented. “Is she a killer?” Fiona immediately asked. I mean, based on Knight’s very first LOOK.
Maybe partly because Knight isn’t normally associated with faux-sexy acting, the effect of her overheated writhing is disturbing rather than erotic (or maybe a little erotic, in a sickly and confusing way). She’s a little like a Fellini nympho in one of his childhood memory scenes: a cartoon of a burlesque of a dream of a memory of a misconception. Or she’s a little like if you met someone who really acted like Marilyn Monroe in her prime: unbelievable, alarming, demented.
Freeman has a more slow-burn naturalistic role at first, but is also amazing: discomfort at the social violation represented by, well, everything Knight says and does, vying with a male instinct to say What The Hell, She Wants Me. And I really don’t know what the play/film is about, what it’s saying, but the conviction and commitment of the actors is so awesome that there can be no doubt they know exactly what it’s all about.
It’s a very strange thing, and completely hypnotic. Now please go and view the whole thing at Shadow and Act.