More a sketch of a narrative fiction film than the film itself, this low-budget / no-budget narrative of anti-war hero Jeanette Rankin could be the start of something big
Although Kamala Lopez has 50-some acting credits since her Yale graduation, this is one of her first works as director. She picked a great subject, but readily admits that the film about anti-war hero Jeannette Rankin needs work. It is a pastiche of several stories with different settings. One story of a pioneer woman during a threatened Indian attack on her wagon train, another set in a kitchen, a third of an ongoing interview with journalists. The good news is that any one of these stories could be taken out on its own and turned into a thirty minute work of good educational value. But in its present form the film will not be regarded by many as worth the price of admission.
The subject of movie, Jeannette Rankin, is the first woman elected to Congress and one of the most ardent suffragists and peace activists in US history. Oddly enough, she was born in 1880 in Missoula, Montana, hardly a hotbed of leftist activism, or of empowered females (one would think). She attended college in Missoula and lived in New York City, Seattle and wherever labor and civil rights movements took her. Rankin was a colorful speaker who did not suffer ignorance well and did not suffer elitism or chauvinism at all. She was obsessed with the rights of women and the working class and infuriated over the sin of war. She probably upset nine out of every ten persons she talked to. But people still listened, because, after all, she always had something to say. She was the only member of Congress to vote against the entry of the USA into both World War I and World War II and was founding vice-president of the ACLU.
The film itself was shot is some four days on what must have been little or no budget. The costumes are haphazard and the make-up is simply dreadful. The outcome might have been better with no makeup at all, simply allowing the spoken words to make the film. Much of the film was shot against a blue screen background which was filled in at later dates. Having stated the criticism of the costumes and make-up, the soul of the film is wonderful. For those lefty pinkos who share a passion for true democracy and worker’s rights and who decry war as a tool of the rich this is the film to watch.
Story-tellers include Elizabeth Peña, Margot Kidder, Karen Black, Cindy Sheehan and Mimi Kennedy. The screenplay is almost entirely quotes directly from Rankin’s record. Although this gives stilted feeling to what is supposed to be narrative fiction, the lines are great, as is Rankin’s snappy comebacks to smart aleck reporters and fat-cat politicos alike. The story tellers do a good job of putting feeling into their words and injecting some of Rankin’s fervent altruism into the body of the film. This is good, because the visual aspect of the film fails in comparison to the power of Rankin’s words.
Rankin is played by Jeanmarie Simpson. The screenplay has her discussing, arguing, or downright fighting with various persons representing the establishment, typically other politicians or male journalists. These dialogs are fun stuff; it is hard to find a more clear statement of anti-war sentiment to this day. Rankin meant what she said and Simpson is able to convey the words with the requisite emphasis.
The film and the stage play both represent a vital part of American history and the anti-war positions are more valid now than ever. Rankin’s criticisms of American social structure and the money-based ethics than have lead to the current collapse of the world economy are as accurate as they are pointed. One hopes that the film will get the funding and further work it needs to take its place among at least the films of our educational system if not the films of our main stream cinematic culture.
Release: no release date at this time
Running Time: 95 minutes