guilty guilty guilty
geezer cinema: the father (florian zeller, 2020)

film fatales #112: town bloody hall (chris hegedus & d.a. pennebaker, 1979)

Town Bloody Hall had an interesting trip from inception to release. D.A. Pennebaker (Don't Look Back, Monterey Pop) and a small team filmed a panel debate in 1971 featuring four prominent feminists and writer Norman Mailer. Nothing came of the footage, for unknown reasons. Later, Chris Hegedus began working with Pennebaker (they eventually married, a relationship that lasted until his death). Apparently, Hegedus discovered the old footage, the two of them edited it into a workable piece, and Town Bloody Hall was finally released in 1979.

It's hard to evaluate Town Bloody Hall as a movie because you want to take sides among the participants in the debate, and to the extent Pennebaker/Hegedus don't pick sides in an obvious way, they become recorders of the event more than they are film artists. But this is always the case with cinéma vérité (or "direct cinema" or whatever you or the film makers think is going on here ... I tend to use the terms interchangeably, but that's admittedly reductive). It looks like we're getting an unfiltered documentary view, but decisions are being made throughout the process. The film is just under 90 minutes, but more than that was filmed ... how did they decide what to include and what to leave out? I wanted to know about those missing parts. For that matter, the event itself is constructed to leave out certain parts, because several more radical feminists refused to be on the panel. The panel ended up being more middle-of-the-road than was good, although it could be argued that in 1971, even mainstream feminism was seen as radical by many. The balance is tilted towards the radicals, though, because the two most engaging women on the panel (Germaine Greer and Jill Johnston) were also the most radical.

Of course, one problem with anything that includes Norman Mailer is that it always ends up being about Norman Mailer, because that's just how he is. (In The Fight, his book about the Ali-Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle", he makes sure to include a scene where he does some road work with Ali ... Norman is where the story is, after all.) Mailer is his usual combative self, which makes for decent theater but which isn't really about the issues. On the other hand, the women participants were also very aware of the performative aspects of the event, especially Johnston, who during her time at the podium is joined by two women ... all three begin to physically demonstrate their attractions, after which Johnston and the others walk off the stage, never to return.

There is another annoying thing about Mailer in this movie. He regularly accuses others of not understanding what he meant when he wrote X or Y or Z. One time, even two times, you can sympathize with his distress. But at some point, you want Mailer to accept that when no one understands what you are writing, perhaps the fault is with the writer.

Town Bloody Hall is a snapshot of a moment, an historical artifact, just plain interesting 50 years later. How much all of that matters to you will explain whether you find Town Bloody Hall interesting or something much more than that.

[Letterboxd list of Film Fatales movies]


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