Friday, August 26, 2011
From Robert Kramer's Route One USA (1989), which portrays the journey of two Americans returning from extended stays in Europe (Kramer himself, behind the camera, and Paul McIsaac playing the "Doc" character originating from Kramer's earlier film, Doc's Kingdom) along the entire stretch of Route 1 from Maine to Key West. Doc plays the home-returner who is simultaneously an alien observer. A wide selection of Americans are interviewed and observed, yet Doc's involvement with them is always transitory: as one who as chosen a different path (namely, that of the expatriated radical) Doc can only continue down the road, hoping to find some situation where he can insert himself back into the American machine. The melancholy of Kramer and McIsaac, products of 60s radical culture, is tangible here, as they look with indignation and admiration at the workings of the society they have turned away from. I find the above sequence especially poignant, with Doc confessing the shameful pangs of regret felt by an aging radical observing the comforts of bourgeois American life. Doc acts as counselor, but also as comrade, reminding the hypothetical viewer of the reasons for choosing a different path, the "different prizes" that replace those of bourgeois society. "Under the surface" is also "beyond the ordinary." Doc assures us that it is worth the effort to uncover the substructure of America, even though this breaks the illusion that would allow us to enjoy its privileged surface.