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July 23, 2019

Luminous Motion

luminous motion.jpg
production still by Nan Goldin

Bette Gordon - 1998
Kino Lorber BD Region A

It takes a few seconds to make sense of one of the images. A close-up of a map, but the various connecting roads are a thick red, almost a network of veins. This image that suggests human geography is echoed later when we see the young boy, Phillip, sleeping with an open anatomy book partially exposed under his pillow. Throughout Luminous Motion is the repetition of patterns and colors, as well as the doubling of the three family members with what might be described as their distorted twins.

There is deliberate ambiguity beginning with the first person narration. We see Phillip as a small, ten year old boy. The language of the narration appears to be that of an adult looking at the past, with certain choices in the vocabulary that would seem appropriate for an adult, yet the voice we hear is that of the child. That narrative voice is one of several devices Bette Gordon uses to disorient the viewer.

Phillip lives an itinerant life with his mother who supports the two of them with what Tennessee Williams referred to as the kindness of strangers. The two seem to be running away from Phillip's father, with no particular destination. Phillip is introduced reading a children's science book, and while quite bright and perhaps too sophisticated for his own good, eventually reveals an inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. No matter where Philip and his mother go, his father seems to know how and when to call Phillip. And while Phillip has this unwavering belief in constantly being on the move, his mother makes a couple of attempts at something resembling domesticity.

Luminous Motion is one of three films that Gordon did not write, but that share in varying degrees similar thematic concerns. The other two films would be Handsome Harry (2009) and The Drowning (2016). While not exact, what these films have in common are traumatic incidents that took place in the past, failed father-son relationships, and males establishing their territory in the form of relationships with other males and women. Phillip has an outsized image of himself as the only one capable of taking care of his mother, even going as far a getting a fake driver's license, totally unaware that his small height and youth make him look silly. Phillip's attempts at control only cause more havoc. Phillip sees two men in his mother's life, his father and a hardware store owner, Pedro, both as temporary father figures and as rivals. The actions Phillip takes to re-establish his position as the primary male in his mother's life may or may not have happened, even Phillip is not certain.

The blu-ray comes with a commentary track by Gordon and her cinematographer, Teodoro Maniaci. Aside from discussing how certain shots were accomplished, the commentary may prove educational for novices in low-budget independent filmmaking. Supplements also include illustrated pages from the script, some story boards, and production stills by Nan Goldin. In addition to young Eric Lloyd meeting the challenge of a convincing performance as Phillip, Luminous Motion is one of the few films since David Cronenberg's Crash that made use of Deborah Kara Unger's talents. Wearing a cheap looking fake leopard skin coat and haphazardly dyed and combed blonde hair, thirteen year old Paz de la Huerta uncannily seems to have set the template for her future film roles.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at July 23, 2019 06:07 AM