Like the theater series on which it is based, URBAN SCENES/CREOLE DREAMS juxtaposes the early 1900’s life-stories of an elderly Creole woman with stories and images from the contemporary, wildly urban world of her gay, performance artist grandson. Thematically, the narrator’s losses to AIDS are contrasted with the elderly woman’s loss of her husband and cousin to the racial and sexual oppression of a different era. Through the narrative and visual representation of these two epochs, the timeless quest for spirituality and self-dignity in the face of loss and oppression emerges.
The narrative begins in New York City with live scenes from the grandson’s performance work in a smoke filled, cutting-edge, contemporary ‘honky-tonk,’ but with images of him visiting a lover sick with AIDS. In the next scene the grandson visits his grandmother (who has moved North after the death of her husband). Sensing his distress over losing those he loves, she offers the solace of her own stories, and so shows him the greater continuum of his journey. This launches the film into the nonlinear telling of both stories.
Compositionally the work freely jumps between these disparate eras. The grandson’s world is loud, a bit off-the-wall, and often hysterically funny. This world is portrayed primarily through the energy of his live, autobiographical performance work; itself a blend of MTV, “downtown” New York, and post modern dance. His monologues are socially deft, but always have a strong – if offbeat – sense of humor. He is backed by a chorus of five young, defiantly loud women and a female dee-jay who spins house music. The grandmother’s world – a gritty world of Creole speaking, cotton-picking, rape, murder, and revenge – begins deep in the early 1900’s alone. Her stories eventually move to the bustling, funny and no nonsense but filled with love; her stories are told with a poetic resonance that contrasts the grandson’s.
It is the tone of this work that is most unique. Part musical, part drama, part stand-up comedy, it is a hybrid blend of perhaps Toni Morrison meets Janet Jackson, meets Spaulding Gray, meets Julie Dash. The film readily takes on issues of oppression – sexism, racism, “AIDS-ism” – while never losing its accessibility, as grit is combined with humor and hope.
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