Dec 13, 2010

Review: Talk 16/Talk 19

When you sit down to watch a documentary, you sort of have a preconceived notion on how things will go, even if you don't know the specifics.  Most people these days are used to the MTV/VH1 style of "reality" shows such as Jersey Shore and Sweet 16 and whatnot.  These shows that are purported to be showing you something real, when in fact it's heavily manipulated and steered in a direction that they want to show.   There's nothing real about it.  It's all manufactured.

So when you watch a documentary, it's a foregone conclusion that what you're about to see is not necessarily THE reality, but it's the director's reality.  It's what they want you to see.  Except that defeats the purpose of the "reality TV" aspect.  We're not getting the truth, we're getting what the director feels is the truth, or what the creators want to be the narrative.

A really good movie that I like is called The Big Kahuna, and stars Kevin Spacey, Danny Devito and Peter Facinelli (Twilight, Nurse Jackie).   Facinelli plays a born again Christian who's very naive and sort of wide eyed about his faith, and his desire to spread that faith to everyone he comes in contact with, whether or not it's a feasible environment for that.  His outlook is that of many Christians that I know, in that they view their obligation to share the Word of Jesus to everyone they meet as being above that of anything on earth.  Above their work obligations, above any requirements or anything.

So in the movie he ends up talking about Jesus to a potential client, when he was supposed to be trying to convince him to become a client of the company that He, Spacey and DeVito represent.   And when Spacey finds out, he flips out and there's a huge confrontation.

Later, DeVito's character is speaking to Facinelli's character, and is trying to explain that there's a time and place for everything, and that Facinelli's character doesn't see the difference between talking to someone just to talk, and trying to sell them on Jesus.  And this leads to one of my all time favorite quotes I've heard in a movie, when DeVito tells Facinelli "Once you lay your hands on a conversation in order to steer it, then it's no longer a conversation.  It's a pitch.  And you're no longer a human being.  You're a marketing rep."

And that pretty much sums up all so called reality television or documentaries these days.  They're all just about starting out with a preconceived notion of what the director wants to say.  Whether it's Michael Moore or someone else, they all have their own agenda.

Which makes it all the more amazing when you come across a documentary that doesn't do that.  That simply turns the camera on and allows it's subjects to speak for themselves.  No dishonest editing or manipulations, just simple honest filmmaking.  A rare thing indeed.

As I watched this, I kind of felt uncomfortable, I must say.  I think it's because so many of the girls featured in Talk 16 and Talk 19, produced by Back Alley Films, the same company responsible for the fantanstic series "Durham County",  reminded me of the naivete that I had when I was in school.   For all their differences, guys and girls aren't THAT different when it comes to things like that.   We all look back at our high school years and cringe at the thought of some of the things we've said, and believed and done.   That's not an exclusive to a specific gender or race or anything.

Talk 16 is a great documentary that follows five random girls in Canada as they talk about their hopes and dreams, and their lives and how they feel about themselves.   It's quite interesting to see these fairly candid expressions caught on film as they are able to be themselves away from their parents.  There's a moment in there where a girl named Lina is talking about her past experimentation with drugs, and her voice drops to a whisper, as her parents were in another room.  And she has this embarassed smile on her face as she's saying this.

All the girls have varying degrees of goals and desires.   One wants to be an actress, another wants to be a model, and so on.  And it's interesting to contrast the girl's attitudes and outlook in Talk 16 with Talk 19 which catches up on those same five girls three years later to see how they are doing.   It's kind of depressing to see how life has just kicked the shit out of some of them, at least mentally and psychologically.

Girls that I sort of liked in the first film, I just flat out disliked in the second, and vice versa.   There were heartbreaking moments where you see someone like Rhonda who at 16 she wanted to be an actress and seemed filled with joy at the idea, and then at 19 she's thoroughly deflated and demoralized because she didn't get a role she wanted.  She seems to filled with this sense of self loathing and can't seem to bring herself past her missing out on that role.  She allowed missing out on that role to just devastate her and throughout Talk 19 she's almost exclusively in her room and it almost feels like she's withdrawn from everything, except a couple friends who visit her.  She seems very happy with them around, but it's kind of frustrating to see someone want something that bad, as she did with acting, and then seemingly at the loss of a role to a friend, she just was like "that's it, I can't do it".

Perhaps I see some of myself in her.  I deal with depression and the self esteem issues much like she appears to, so I don't know if my frustration and utter dislike of her in Talk 19 (as opposed to Talk 16 when I was happy for her and hoping she'd do well), stems from the fact that I recognize some of those same attributes in her that I do myself?  They say we dislike in others what we dislike in ourselves.  Maybe that's it.

Another girl, Erin, who I didn't really have a feeling about either way in Talk 16, I absolutely despised in the followup.  In Talk 16 she was seemingly the stereotypical popular girl, and one scene stood out to me which is when they had rented a bus with tv's and a bar on it for their prom, and the bus they got didn't have the TV's or Bar, so she was adamant that they would not pay 400 bucks for the bus.   Seems reasonable.  If you expect to get something and you get less than that, you want to get what you pay for.

But then they decide to walk the TWO BLOCKS to the Prom.  And I sat back and was thinking, Why would you rent a bus for 400 bucks with TV's and a bar in when it takes you two blocks to get to the prom?   I understand the whole making an event and renting a limo or whatever, but maybe it's just me, it just seemed odd that they would need all that when it was two blocks away.  What would you watch in two blocks?

And in Talk 19 she had turned into this, for lack of a better word, a real bitch.  As bad as that word is, and I try not to use it, I don't think she'd really object to it.  She came off as someone, like some women I've met, that fully embrace that title and see nothing wrong with it.

She has accepted the role of someone who uses her sexuality to get what she wants.  She extols the virtue of "Pussy Power" and freely talks about in case of her losing her looks as she grows older, that she'll marry a rich guy and use all his money to have plastic surgery.  When asked the obvious question, what if he divorces her, she laughed and said she would have no worries because, "No prenups here".

This really pissed me off, I have to say. I think that's because I've met women like this in my life, I've gone to school with them, I've worked with them, and they are the pretty on the outside, and ugly to the bone on the inside.

It was interesting though contrasting her with Lina, who although she's not as physically attractive as Erin, she's not ugly, and yet desperately wants plastic surgery to make herself look pretty.  She thinks that she'll never be happy unless she does.   And it's interesting because, I think her and Erin are complete opposites in every way.  Lina is a good person who wants desperately to be beautiful, and Erin is a terrible person who happens to be physically beautiful.   Inside and out two completely different, and yet Lina thinks that the only way she'll be happy would be to look like someone that resembles Erin.

I think that's sad, and yet it's something that many girls go through.  Our society has beaten us down with images of men and women who are supposed to represent what we're supposed to be.  Who we should want to be if we want to be cool and popular.  And you DO want to be cool and popular right?

All in all this is a pretty fascinating documentary series, that is sadly unavailable from the usual suspects in Amazon or Ebay or any of those types of places.   If you're in Canada and you get a chance to see this on TV or something in a re-run, I'd encourage you to do so.   It's a sobering look into the hearts and minds of five girls at two different times in their lives.  You're able to see them at the height of their ambition and hopes and dreams, and then again three years later when they are just out of high school (Rhonda was in 12th grade) and entering the world either through working or college.

So if you are able to find a copy of this, I recommend it very much.

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