Flickhead
Film Review
By Ray Young

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Scott Hamilton Kennedy & Catherine Borek

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OT: Our Town

Produced and directed by Scott Hamilton Kennedy

For more information contact

The Film Movement

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“Whenever you come near the human race, there’s layers and layers of nonsense . . . We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names . . . That something has to do with human beings.”
— The Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town

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    Thirty years ago, I found myself meandering through high school, insecure, warring with suburban banality, starving for sex, reaching for anything to escape self. Growing pains, rites of passage — interminable, embarrassing, ugly. Years would pass before the realization that nothing unique had transpired. It was life — and a thick layer of nonsense.
    Outside of the fleeting comfort sought from pills, pot, “poon,” and booze, there came a transcendental adolescent moment euphoric enough to remain fresh in mind to this day. An English teacher could see “star magnetism” in my slouching demeanor (or was he just trying to keep me off the streets?), and suggested I be in a high school play. My reaction? “And join the loser fags in the drama department? No way, man!” But a few months later there I was, nurturing my inner Brando in a flight of abandon, on stage before the very community I abhorred.
    My attraction to OT: Our Town, director Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s documentary, may not be entirely objective. His record of a high school production of the Thornton Wilder play is infectious to be sure, and artfully captures the elation of opening night. Perhaps more importantly, though, it traces the evolution of rehearsal — a soap opera unto itself, when, week after week, frayed teen emotions test the limits of teacher patience.
    OT is also unique in its ready-made back story. Fiscally challenged Dominquez High School hadn’t staged a play in over twenty years. Located in the low-income town of Compton, California, culture has whittled down to “attitude” and gaudy fashion. Academia generally doesn’t assume priority among those living in poverty and fear, residents wincing under the occasional din of drive-by shootings. To bring Our Town here — and stage it successfully — is a testament to Wilder’s timeless slice of life. Once you get past the culture shock and shift in colloquialism, the early-1900’s, lily-white world of Grover’s Corners and the gangsta/hip-hop universe of the West Coast are identical in their concerns over life and love and death.
    Racial issues are evident but never exploited in the film. Compton is a mix of black and Hispanic, but the English teacher directing the play, Catherine Borek, appears to be white. While the film goes into the homes and talks to the families of the students for an excellent taste of local flavor, scenes with the genial Ms. Borek are scattered about in frugal interview segments.
    Kennedy’s film would’ve benefited by spending more time with her, because she possesses a contagious passion that stirs the imaginations of her students. As I recall thirty years ago, the teacher who convinced me of the theatre was steeped in this passion. He has since written a book on teaching acting to high school students, Secondary Stages, yet it skirts the area of instructor passion. Is it learned or inherent? Could a teacher to whom students are not drawn to mount a successful play? Perhaps not.
    Taking into account the spry 77-minute running time of OT, these are mere quibbles — or maybe an idea for a future project. Throughout the film, Kennedy grasps the immediacy of his subject and enjoys the people involved. Briskly edited, his approach is celebratory, nearly subjective as it appreciates the positive, creative energy emanating from a place commonly pigeonholed under negativity. Given his success, perhaps Kennedy has some of that passion, too.