Jan Oxenberg's quest for knowledge about her dead maternal grandmother utilizes a number of styles and formats: home movies, life-size cut-outs, parodied quiz shows, fabricated interviews and outright fantasy sequences. Often funny, THANK YOU AND GOOD NIGHT! also explores the uneven
relationship between Oxenberg's mother and grandmother, hinting at unspoken tensions and unnamed tragedies.
Oxenberg's persona at times is a cutout of herself as a scowling five-year-old, and one of the mysteries in the film is the reference to an older sister killed in a neighborhood car accident at the age of seven. One of the filmmaker's earliest memories of her grandmother is a visit to an old,
ornate movie palace where they saw THE PAJAMA GAME. The "granny" cutout is of a stout, bespectacled, hearty woman which contrasts with the thin, acerbic, chain-smoking woman captured by Oxenberg's documentary sequences.
That grandmother, Mae Joffe, was to die of cancer and had already been stricken with diabetes. Born in Troy, New York, Jaffe reveals little of her life there or the reasons underlying the move downstate. Similarly, although native-born, Mae's fear about the Nazis and her sense of Jewish identity
are never explored, though cited by Oxenberg as narrator.
What is investigated is the curious relationship between mother and Mae which seems to approach the love-hate level with nasty asides and frequent lapses in the filmed interviews and conversations. This tension changes as the grandmother's health declines precipitously; initially seen smoking and
playing solitaire, she is soon confined to bed and cannot even stir a meal and is subsequently seen in a hospital. Oxenberg's film crew follows her into a radiation therapy session and provides the source for a fantasy sequence in which the Oxenberg cutout is shown with a miracle-cure machine.
The fantasy scenes often serve as a comment on the filmed commentary by family members as they discuss Mae's declining health and impending death. The five-year-old cutout also serves this function, so we see the scowling Jan on a psychiatric couch or riding the tractor that digs the graves at the
family cemetery. All the while we hear her bemused voice asking questions about the nature of life and death in a mild satire of her more earnest brother. Even the most philosophically sophisticated discussion could not compete with the imagery of a ravished frail grandmother staring at the camera
lens from what is to be her deathbed.
That death gives rise to an involved conversation as the family mourns in the prescribed religious fashion and Oxenberg plays with two fantasies: one a trip with a motley crew of the recently deceased, including a beer-toting carful of people dressed in bearsuits, through the Holland Tunnel toward
the light of so-called "near-death experience"; the other a trip into space where the living meet the dead and their souvenirs.
After the grandmother's death, Oxenberg turns her camera on the disposition of the furnishings, including the salt and pepper shaker sets and the 21-inch color TV. It is during this part of the film that Oxenberg examines the death of her older sister about whom she remembers very little. The
grandmother's death is partially an excuse to explore the issue of death and the various attitudes toward it on the part of surviving relatives.
Twelve years in the making, THANK YOU AND GOOD NIGHT! is a collage of the mundane and the imaginative exploring the by-ways of love and remorse. An experienced TV writer, Jan Oxenberg has made several short films and this production was made for American Playhouse Theatrical Films. Stylistically
the film is similar to Syberberg's OUR HITLER, a debt Oxenberg has acknowledged along with Woody Allen's ANNIE HALL and Carlos Saura's CRIA. With its mixture of humor and pathos, the film has been compared to those of Allen and, like his films, THANK YOU AND GOOD NIGHT! wavers between the very
amusing and the sentimental, though the actual death of a real person does tend to excuse the latter.
In a way, Oxenberg has squared the circle, since it would be tactless to criticize this film too harshly, especially for those documentary sequences that provide such a wonderful base from which to expand into the fantasy sections. Oddly droll, THANK YOU AND GOOD NIGHT! certainly expands the genre
of documentary film, while providing an accessible variant of personal cinema for a wide audience. (Adult situations.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: NR
- Review: Jan Oxenberg's quest for knowledge about her dead maternal grandmother utilizes a number of styles and formats: home movies, life-size cut-outs, parodied quiz shows, fabricated interviews and outright fantasy sequences. Often funny, THANK YOU AND GOOD NIGH… (more)