directed by Scott Hamilton Kennedy
USA 2002

 

OT: Our Town” is not going to win any cinematography awards. Directed and shot by Scott Hamilton Kennedy, the movie’s lighting scheme ranges from “blown out” to “extremely blown out” but it’s obvious that Kennedy has more pragmatic concerns on his mind.

When Thornton Wilder penned “Our Town” about seventy years ago, his vision of generic small town America was far from the big city and as lily white as a Klan meeting in Nome, Alaska. That doesn’t prevent teachers Catherine Borek and Karen Greene from convincing their students at Dominguez High School in Compton, CA to stage their own (slightly updated) version of one of the most frequently performed plays in the history of American theater.

Borek (who definitely gets top billing over Greene) has a tough sell on her hands. The students complain that they don’t understand the corny “farm lingo.” On a more fundamental level, many of the kids can’t connect to the ideal nuclear family that is taken for granted in Wilder’s play, but which they have never seen in real life. In sharp contrast to the usual political marketing, the “typical” family for the students consists of absent fathers and hard-working mothers and substitute mothers. Ebony Starr Norwood-Browne (who plays the Stage Manager) tells of how her mother dropped her off at the baby-sitter’s one day and simply never came back.

While Borek finds a way to peddle Wilder’s bucolic vision to inner-city kids, Kennedy has his agenda as he goes to great lengths to depict Dominguez High as far more than just a home for gang-bangers and NBA hopefuls (Tyson Chandler of the Chicago Bulls makes a brief appearance in the film as he is wrapping up his senior year.) The budding thespians have to fight hard to squeeze even the most modest funding from a school that has no problem shoveling big bucks into the sports teams: they don’t even secure a stage until the day before the final performance.

The documentary about inner-city kids performing a play has become a distinct sub-genre of its own in recent years (“Colors Straight Up” and “The Hobart Shakespeareans” are two examples) and Kennedy’s movie hews to the emerging formula: initial enthusiasm fades into chaos and near disaster but everyone eventually unites to surmount all obstacles and deliver a triumphant performance that pleases the parents even if it doesn’t send Hollywood talent scouts scurrying to the phones.

Kennedy also gets considerable mileage from a 1977 TV broadcast of “Our Town” featuring Hal Holbrook, Ned Beatty and even Mrs. Garrett (Charlotte Rae). The TV version is like a time capsule, not daring to change a single word or stage direction from Wilder’s original play, and the contrast shows just how innovative Borek and her students are in changing the “Our Town” in question from Grover’s Corners, NH to Compton, CA.

 

Christopher Long

Theatrical Release: August 15, 2003 (USA)

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DVD Review: Mongrel Media - Region 1 - NTSC

Big thanks to Christopher Long for the Review!

DVD Box Cover

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Distribution

Mongrel Media

Region 1 - NTSC

This film is also available on DVD from Film Movement and available at Amazon.com:

                

Runtime 76 min
Video

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.71 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio English
Subtitles None
Features Release Information:
Studio: Mongrel Media

Aspect Ratio:
Fullscreen - 1.33:1

Edition Details:

none

DVD Release Date: Mar 1, 2007
Keep case

Chapters 12

 

 

Comments:

This non-progressive transfer shows several examples of combing. In general, the transfer looks pretty lousy, but I don’t think you can blame the distributor: the source material is the problem. The final screen capture below shows an example both of (slight) combing and the highly blown-out lighting that characterizes many scenes. I guess that’s the penalty for “fly-on-the-wall” access to reality, but you don’t have to be a grumpy aesthete like me to be put off by it all. Still, the story is a winning one, and the cast of characters in the movie are a whole lot more interesting than those in Wilder’s play. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but it’s still good material.

The bare bones DVD contains only one extra: a trailer for Deepa Mehta’s “Water.”

This DVD is released by Mongrel Media in Canada (as opposed to the DVD released in the USA by Film Movement), and is part of The Festival Collection, which adds two titles per month in Canada and is now up to 50+ titles. We hope to review many in the upcoming months.

 - Christopher Long

 



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Example of slight combing and blown out lighting

 

 

 

DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

 

Distribution

Mongrel Media

Region 1 - NTSC

This film is also available on DVD from Film Movement and available at Amazon.com:

                




 

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