Yvonne Rainer's filmed essay is a compelling meditation on representation, race, women, rape and menopause. Her mixture of amateur and professional actors can take some getting used to, and her device of letting her characters step outside themselves to give commentary can often be
confusing, but if you are sociologically inclined PRIVILEGE is a daring rhetorical event.
The movie focuses primarily on an African-American documentary filmmaker, Yvonne Washington (Novella Nelson). Yvonne, whose name brings up the first question this film poses about representation, is making a film about menopause. One of the women she interviews is Jenny (Alice Spivak). Jenny is
reticent about talking about aging and would much rather reminisce about her youth as a dancer on New York City's lower east side. The film takes a bold leap backwards and takes us on a tour of Jenny's memories. The mature Jenny plays her younger self surrounded by younger actors. This device
works surprisingly well. We soon become immersed in the story of Jenny's lesbian housemate Brenda (Blair Baron), who is sexually assaulted by her Puerto Rican neighbor Carlos (Rico Elias). Issues of race, gender, class and sexuality are confronted in these memories. But they also collide in the
present-time debate between Yvonne, the filmmaker, and Jenny, the interviewee.
PRIVILEGE attempts to show the ethical holes in filmic and political representation of the unprivileged. Our own opinions are challenged, embraced, then challenged again. The film careens from dry Godard-like monologues to comic schtick to medical documentary to moments of choreographed movement
to moments of pure drama. The speed with which Rainer paces the film is just right. And the segments of traditional narrative show a sly and mature sense of direction. Rainer has her moves down, both traditional and nontraditional, and she reveals herself to be an experimental filmmaker at the
height of her powers.
However, Rainer's use of voiceovers and split characters can become annoying. Rainer uses these techniques to make us question the veracity of all statements on film whether they be spoken by character, narrator or an interviewee. And above all, she asks that we be aware that someone is
controlling the script, the editing and the rhetorical flow. Rainer assumes that in using this tired Brechtian effect that a more critical, perhaps higher truth will be revealed. The statements that Rainer crams into Carlos's mouth, for instance, are so academic that they cause her device to
backfire. Rainer is pointing out how great a distance there is between political rhetoric and the average unprivileged man's ideas. Yet at the same time she is using Carlos as a voice box for her own politic agenda. Can Rainer have it both ways?
There's also a kind of smugness in this appropriation of Godard's technique that often makes our respect for the film halt. Godard uses technique ironically. Rainer's hand is too heavy. Doesn't she see that this flight of political fancy is a caprice as frivolous as any other? She's playing a
typical game intellectuals play with their vast accumulation of sociological thoughts. They question themselves mercilessly only to emerge predictably strengthened from the battle. Yet PRIVILEGE, as opposed to Rainer's other films, does acknowledge in a small way that this intellectual boxing
match is done for pleasure. And in doing so, Rainer makes us respect her process of political thought. This is more than a small triumph.
The film finally ends on a Utopian note. It doesn't try to wrap up all the contradictions in the way a Hollywood film is supposed to. It says that the process of discussing all these problems is what will make us more humane. We must allow the contradictions into our lives and listen to different
races and experiences. The last moments of the film show the cast members out of character having a party. And the viewer receives an unusual cathartic experience seeing these disparate people finally harmonized through creative debate. Yet that, of course, is up for debate as well. (Adultsituations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1991
- Rating: NR
- Review: Yvonne Rainer's filmed essay is a compelling meditation on representation, race, women, rape and menopause. Her mixture of amateur and professional actors can take some getting used to, and her device of letting her characters step outside themselves to gi… (more)