February 22, 2011

Queer Review: Born in Flames (1983)

Born in Flames
Director: Lizzie Borden
Writers: Lizzie Borden and Ed Bowes
Cast: Honey, Adele Bertei, Jean Satterfield, Kathryn Bigelow

Many movements and works of art make the claim of being "radical" or "envelope pushing" and in the long run, many of them end up . Born in Flames contains the sort of subversive ideology that whacks radicalism over the head and makes envelope pushing it's little bitch. A low budget science fiction film that has parallels to other classics within the genre, such as Metropolis and 1984, Born in Flames still manages to leave an impression.

Born in Flames is set 10 years after a peaceful revolution has turned the United States into a socialist Democracy. However, social injustice is still prevalent for woman, LGBTQA, and other minorities. In order to fight back, several groups made entirely of woman organize to develop strategies to change society in ways no one had previously imagined. When the leader of one group, the openly lesbian Adelaide Norris, (Jean Satterfield) is murdered while in government custody, these groups are galvanized to taking greater and more direct action.

Shot on what I imagine was a minuscule budget, the footage is frequently grainy and the production elements are horrendous. This is indie film making in all it's unvarnished glory. The acting is also rather unimpressive, but that is probably a result of most of the cast being amateurs.

The main reason for seeing Born in Flames is for the intellectual butt kicking it provides. While not a very pretty or well polished, theres enough brain power behind the philosophical issues addressed and provocative subtext to put the most intelligent academic scholar to shame.

Born in Flames frequently juxtaposes concepts and images to get it's message across. Prostitution and rape are mentioned in the same sentence so often, that I'm sure some sort of direct comparison was being made by the film makers. In one sequence, a shot of a condom being put on a male penis is placed between an image of a baby feeding from a bottle and a woman washing dishes. There are also scenes of women practicing military drills and other scenes of where women use non-violent methods to protect female victims of violent assaults.

However, the most disconcerting image comes at the end when one of the rebel groups succeeds in blowing up the communication tower on top of the world trade center. While it was undoubtedly intended as a symbolic attack on the system, the final image of smoke billowing from one of the towers evokes too many bitter memories, to not leave post 9/11 viewers deeply unsettled.

On a less downbeat point, it is worth pointing out that Kathryn Bigelow has a small role as a newspaper editor who loses her job for supporting the anti-establishment groups. For those who don't know, Bigelow directed The Hurt Locker and won an Oscar for that, thereby becoming the first female to be awarded an Oscar for best director.

In the final analysis, this is not a great movie, the low budget obviously restricted the film makers too much for that. However, the deeper intellectual currents contained within make it worth seeking out for those who enjoy non-mainstream fare.

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