When we first see Vince Williams (Richard Barboza), he's behind bars. He rises wearily and clutches the bars of his cell as he laments the sequence of events that have landed him in jail. Norman Loftis's SMALL TIME chronicles those events, following Vince on a routine but fateful day of
His doleful story is supplemented by flashbacks and the testimonies--straight to the camera--of eyewitnesses to the collision course young Vince has been on since he was born poor and black in the USA. Before that, actually: his mother, the first eyewitness, recounts how at the age of 13 she was
in labor with Vince for 20 hours before he emerged from the womb feet first.
Vince has a big burden to shoulder. He's got a younger brother he doesn't want to wind up the way he has and a mother for whom he's sole support. She balks at his life of crime, but doesn't hesitate to take his money. There really is no choice--for either of them. But Vince is not without
scruples. He turns down an offer to get rich quick by becoming a schoolyard pusher. Vince possesses a sensitivity that his survival on the streets demands he cover up, and there's a suggestion that under different, favorable circumstances he might have had a creative instead of a destructive life.
Vince meets his cronies in a schoolyard and agrees to assist in a bank job that afternoon, then scouts some easy marks on the subway--an old man, a woman alone--but gets arrested when he doesn't outrun the cops after a purse-snatching. He gets kicked and beaten by the white detective
interrogating him (he also makes Vince lick his shoes), but is released when the woman "doesn't want any trouble." After attending his girlfriend Vicki's (Carolyn Kinebrew) song recital, he abuses her verbally and physically for wanting out of their relationship and her dead-end life (he makes her
lick his shoes).
Vince attends the wake of a friend who was killed when they were robbing a mom-and-pop store, and the grieving mother loudly denounces Vince. After picking up, then robbing and beating a gay man, Vince has to rush to the hospital to see his girlfriend, who has attempted suicide. Leaving there,
the friends he'd let down by not showing up for the bank job coerce him into helping them highjack a taxicab. They force the cabbie out in Riverside Park to rob him. Vince refuses to "off" him and makes unavailing pleas for the cabbie's life, but his companions will not be swayed. The fatal shot
rings out, and the camera freezes Vince's horrified scream. The shot has effectively ended his life too.
Since SMALL TIME begins with Vince waking early to start his day of crime and ends late at night with the killing of the cabbie, the film has the effect of a life telescoped in the events of one day, even though flashbacks and testimonies by, besides his mother, a grade school teacher, Vicki and
a coach fill in the lugubrious picture. Despite all the incident in SMALL TIME, the effect of the film is static. Perhaps the fatalism of the characters infects the viewer. It's a statement of the hopelessness of a financially and intellectually impoverished existence.
This is a low-budget black and white film, and it was clearly an aesthetic decision influenced by economic considerations that encouraged writer-producer-director Norman Loftis to shoot much of SMALL TIME in long, uninterrupted takes--especially an overlong and overwrought scene between Vince and
Vicki. These have a deadening effect. The film strikes one note unrelieved by humor. Title cards introduce each of five sections--"Getting Paid," "The Posse," "Vicki," "Busted" and "The Killing"--and this too has a distancing effect.
The film has a gritty, semi-documentary look, with its midtown Manhattan locations at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and Grand Central Station and rundown apartments in Harlem. It is earnestly acted by a cast of unknowns, and Richard Barboza effectively conveys the self-hatred of the kid whose
survival depends upon his acting tough. By the time SMALL TIME is over, his outer crust has crumbled. (Violence, profanity, adult situations.)
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