Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dirty Laundry

As I have written here and displayed countless times, my dad went through a five-year period where he took a lot of photos via his Argus Technicolor camera.  There are countless family gatherings where he took one snapshot after another.  Of course, the one person who is rarely seen at these events?  My father, of course.  

It was the fashion in those days to take home movies with some sort of Super 8 camera.  My tribe never got this treatment.  But many others did.  

And actress/director Sarah Polley was one of them.  And, as a result, she can now captivate us with an uncommonly interesting documentary that pretty much put her family's dirty laundry up the cinematic clothesline for all to see.

So, maybe it's a good thing that my father specialized in only still photography.

Polley is intrigued about her mother, a Canadian actress who died of cancer when Sarah was very young.  Indeed, Mom had already collected a passel of children through another marriage.  I have no idea how this woman had time to appear on the stage unless her feet were in stirrups.  

The present-day Polley sits downs with all her siblings and half-siblings to talk about Mom.   Her dad is photographed reading his own recollections in a sound studio.  Everybody seems to have a different take on Mom and Rashomon apparently has nothing on this bunch.  Ultimately, you come to learn with Sarah that all was not as it appeared.  And neither was Mom.

Before you know, this true story has more twists and turns than the Lifetime Movie-of-the-Week you napped through last Saturday afternoon.  Not to give away the farm, there are non-family members who pop up out of no place with a connection to Mom.  There are DNA tests and all sorts of suppositions.  Meanwhile, our director and tour guide is coming to grips with some truths that had never been revealed to her previously.

You can't help but divert your attention from the screen as one outrageous family secret after another is brought forward.  The Polleys might actually be the first dysfunctional family in America.   Well, of course, unless you consider mine.  Or yours.  Indeed, some of the family issues here are sitcom-like and I'm wondering about the TV spin-off possibilities. 

"Everybody Doesn't Tell Sarah."

As riveted as I was, I reached a point midway where something didn't smell right.  As Sarah is telling the story of her mom back in the 70s and 80s, there seemed to be an inordinate amount of home movies shot.  Allen Funt's family was on screen less.  And it seemed that a lot of plot points were perfectly tied to the action in the films.  Hmmmm.  Did Polley get that lucky?  Was the camera person from years ago constantly available to shoot the Polley gang?  

Well, as Sarah finally tells us, not all is what it seems to be.  Just as she discovered in her own family, a lot of the images we had watched for the past ninety minutes were....well....  Hey, I'm not going to ruin it for you.  Just because a bit of this movie is a cheat, you still need to see it.  Because, despite how the story is told, it is one you will want to hear.  A slice of family intrigue that is frequently kept under wraps.

At the conclusion of "Stories We Tell," I felt a little wistful.  I wondered if there were any secrets never told in my family.  I know there were always a lot of whispers, especially if I was in the room.  There was no transparency in this clan.  I think about some throwaway remarks that were made to me by my parents or one of my aunts and uncles.  Maybe it was worth digging into.  Now, I know it's all late.  They're all gone.  The only whispering is the gentle noise made by blades of grass in a soft breeze.  On top of their graves.

I have six cousins.  For a myriad of reasons, I'm not in touch for four of them.  Is this worth examining?  Should I go onto Amazon and buy myself a cheap Super 8 camera?  And who do I even film?

I look again at photos my dad took.  It's a gala holiday event.  Everybody there is smiling.

And not saying a word.

Dinner last night:  Leftover bratwurst and vegetables.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Every family has secrets, one reason why our families continue to fascinate us long after so many members are gone.

I recently learned something about a family member, a part of that life kept well-hidden for years.

I decided not to share it with the relatives who don't know. Our secrets live on.