Saturday, March 20, 2021

So This Exists

I don't give very many bad reviews. Back when I was actually paid to review films I remember doing only two that could be considered negative, but I was respectful and made sure to give equal attention to the good things that happened. Then my Tuesday group watched this:

Victims for Victims: The Theresa Saldana Story, 1984. d. Karen Arthur, written by Arthur Heinemann

"The true story of the brutal attack on actress Theresa Saldana by an unbalanced fan. As a result of her ordeal and its aftermath, Saldana becomes involved in the victims' rights movement." (IMDB)

Here's where things get difficult for me. As a humanist-centered film writer, I try to look for the lesson, the theme, the link to humanity at large that might offset a film's other shortcomings. With this, the only real lessons are, don't get stabbed, and don't trust your insurance, I guess. That's not all that appealing for someone who loves film or humanity. I'd rather write when I'm inspired, not bored to tears or at odds with the content.

For instance, I tried like hell to put something together for Revenge of the Nerds a few weeks ago, a film I really like, but because of two violating situations (videotaping the Sisters of Pi, naked, and Lewis tricking Betty Childs into having relations with him in the moon room thinking he's Stan, her boyfriend), I just couldn't talk about it the way I would have done maybe 10 years ago so I skipped it and waited for something else to come along I could get excited about. 

I can't say I'm excited about this film, but I have been thinking about it, so here we are, and here are the shortcomings: 

1. The victim, Theresa Saldana, plays herself. I'm not a practicing mental health professional (yet) but this seems . . . problematic. We learn at some point in the film that she needs cash since her insurance is, surprise, taking forever and placing a lot of limits on what care Theresa can receive, but yeah, NO. If I had to list five of the worst things that ever happened to me and then act them out in front of a camera for money, I'd take a hard pass. And honestly, this film could not have resulted in a huge number of dollars for anyone involved. Exploitation. 

2. Sometimes crimes are just sudden, jarring, and disruptive but not exactly cinematic or even interesting as a film-length story. The stabbing of Theresa Saldana was such a crime. The creep that stabbed her hung around her place for a while, stalking, eventually stabbed her in broad daylight, and got arrested. Theresa's recovery was lengthy and (sorry) boring. Theresa's interactions with her husband and family were lengthy and (sorry) boring. This was the longest 100 minute film I've ever sat through.

3. Questions: why were all the draperies open and doors unlocked? Why so many stuffed animals for a grown woman? Why was Theresa portrayed so child-like?

It might actually be BOTH Louise and Cindy, 

Those are the main shortcomings. I can't really fault the director, as the film was structurally pretty sound (think of a Dallas episode from around the same early 80s era). The writing can't really be faulted either if they were going for an exact replication of what happened, although someone might have stood up and admitted that it all wasn't all that interesting and I don't know, started making shit up instead, but they obviously played it straight. Bad idea. I read once that Anne Lamott got a memoire she'd written back with the note: "You make the mistake of thinking everything that's ever happened to you is interesting." Given the choice, I would read Anne Lamott's grocery list over sitting through this again, but the sentiment from this editor, whoever it was, is worth keeping in mind. 

After realizing I couldn't just turn this off (it was suggested but we decided to hold fast) I went through all my phone games, stalked the crazy Qs on FB I keep tabs on, and then spent some time wondering what other films I've either left or turned off, unfinished. I remember three: Pearl Harbor (in theater), The Last Samurai (in theater), and WW84 just a few months ago at home. I eventually came around and watched Pearl Harbor again on a dare, I think, and wrote about it with a little more empathy (as much empathy as one can rightly muster for a Michael Bay film) but the latter two were so aggressively bad I will not be coming around. 

I can't in good faith say this was aggressively bad, as it was someone's lived experience, but it is aggressively BLAH. The highlight of the experience for me was insisting to my two Zoom watch mates that certain characters were either Louise Fletcher or Cindy Williams (SHIRLEY, from Laverne &). Like, repeatedly insisting to the point where they would both yell at me every time I brought it up.

Anyway, the film is available in its entirety on YouTube, if you want to give it a try. I do not recommend you do this. Watch Wandavision or Dark instead.