Trekkies


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Trekkies
directed by Roger Nygard

Whatis the nature of obsession? Almost any of the Star Trek fans who appearonscreen in Roger Nygard's documentary Trekkies could answer thatquestion. That is, they could answer it if they agreed that what there are engagedin is an obsession, as opposed to a hobby or interest. And most of them don'tagree. To them, the total immersion in a commercially created fantasy is nosicker or more dangerous than an all-consuming interest in, say, fishing orfootball. Nor do Trekkies see themselves as desperate nerds who have no senseof self and have escaped into fantasy because the real world is too depressing;on the contrary, they view Star Trek fandom?the merchandise collecting,the conventions, the fan clubs and homemade uniforms?as expressionsof who they are, and the immersion in fantasy as a confirmation of their outsiderstatus. They trek, therefore they are.

The movie does a good jobof getting at the roots of Star Trek's continuing appeal. The largenumbers of normal-looking people at the conventions (overweight, or very skinny,or just plain-looking, as opposed to model-gorgeous) and the high proportionof gays, lesbians and people of color confirms that this sci-fi universe isappealing partly because it seems so optimistic and inclusive. Nichelle Nichols,who played Uhura on the original show, retells a story told her by Whoopi Goldberg,about how Goldberg got excited as a kid seeing a sci-fi program with a blackperson on it; though Uhura rarely did much besides push buttons on the bridge,the sight was so inspiring to a black girl growing up in the late 60s that itconvinced her that anything was possible. There are a couple of areasthat could have been more fully explored, though. I would have liked to haveseen a critique, however brief, of Star Trek's political implications.The show was created during the post-Kennedy years and it shared both JFK'sprogressive racial politics (there was even an alien on the bridge) and hishawkish eagerness to intervene in other nations' business. (Star Trekwriter David Gerrold even compared Captain Kirk to JFK in his excellentbook about the show, The Trouble With Tribbles.) And though subsequentincarnations of the program have been even more racially and ethnically sensitive(and less sexist?the women no longer have to wear miniskirts), it stillhas an intriguingly retro vibe. It's nostalgically interventionist andstill pretty macho. Even after 30-odd years, the Federation very rarely interveneswith other cultures in ways that seriously backfire; whatever it chooses todo, that decision is ultimately made to seem logical and right. And for a supposedly pacifisticshow, there sure have been a lot of episodes about space warfare, kidnappingsand hostage situations. Some of the fans' assertions about the show'speace-loving, democratic impulse needed to be called into question. (Maybe thevery funny montage of stand-up comics' Star Trek material that playsover the end credits could have been moved to the middle of the movie?especiallyone comic's smashing impression of Captain Kirk barging into an alien householdand declaring, "Your Bible ...is a LIE!") And I think somebodysomewhere should have pointed out an obvious contradiction: Fans claim Trekconventions let them express their individuality and confirm their difference,but a lot of the people there are dressed the same way and are talking aboutthe same subject. I also wanted to learn moreabout so-called "slash" literature. A couple of Trek-lovingbuddies told me of this phenomenon?gay and lesbian porn involving majorcharacters, such as Kirk/Spock or Picard/Riker?and it made perfect senseto me. Star Trek rightly has a huge gay and lesbian following, becauseit is among the most inclusive of all science fiction series, but the programwas never quite as progressive as its defenders claim; it was usually a coupleof steps ahead of the culture at large, not light years. (To this day, therehas never been a major recurring gay or lesbian character.) The "slash"literature imaginatively drags the program into the world of real bravery andreal challenge; it deserved more than a five-minute once-over. Maybe it deservedits own movie. (Though not one Paramount would be interested in releasing.) But these are minor quibbles.Trekkies is an engaging look at a perennially vital fan movement thatseems to become larger and more diverse by the year. It's pitched at fansof the show, who will adore it, but casual viewers will find plenty to chuckleover (and think about).
AmericanHollow

directedby Rory Kennedy


TheBowlings, the poor Kentucky hill family at the center of Rory Kennedy'sAmerican Hollow, both confirm and explode the media's sniggeringpreconceptions about poor whites. Those looking for stereotypical images oftrailer-park culture in the South will come away satisfied: This big familyis populated largely by welfare recipients, many of whom are coping with substanceabuse problems, debilitating ailments and run-ins with the law. But the movieis also careful to give a sense of economic context. They know what's goingon in the state and in Washington, and they understand how it might affect them.("If they cut all these people off welfare like they say they're goingto," says one Bowling son, "you're gonna have to sit there andguard your garden.") The Bowlings are loyal to the land where so many oftheir generation were raised; that the land is high in the Appalachian mountains,hours from the nearest town and hours farther from good jobs, is a complicationthey may never transcend.
They aren't disconnectedfrom the world, though. Grandma Iree, 69, is up on current medical jargon andsometimes uses slangy pseudo-therapeutic words like "stressed out."One of her sons is on Prozac, and grandchild Clint listens to rap music. Kennedyshould have explored these quirks more conscientiously. You sometimes get theimpression she's overplaying the region's supposed timeless insularity.The gorgeous score?by guitarist-composer Bill Frisell, drawn heavily fromhis masterwork Nashville?lends the images a tough but nostalgicromanticism, a movie-movie quality, and makes this sometimes lumpy nonfictionexcursion feel more coherent than it is. It's a problematic but defensiblecreative choice. But the other bluegrass cuts on the soundtrack are not; toomany of them sound old and cliched, and their inclusion smacks of false primitivism.I also could have done without the frequent soundless slo-mo montages that punctuatethe film. They're too much like something you'd see on NBC'sDateline: The less a film reminds us of the creatively bankrupt film-schoolnoodling practiced by editors of tv news footage, the better. Aside from these errors,the film is honest about both its subjects and its own methods. There are fouror five scenes in American Hollow that are hard to look at because theycapture moments of naked, unforced, messy emotionalism that we rarely see inthe stage-managed Jerry Springer era. Poor teenage Clint providesthe bulk of these moments. He's desperately in love with a girl who doesn'treally want him, and he dreams about leaving the hollow but has no prospects.His family?especially his father?tries to talk him out of making impulsivedecisions that will backfire later. His refusal to listen is both familiar andheartbreaking?especially when he defends his right to marry young. "I wish that you andthe family would have a little faith in me for once," Clint says, on theeve of his marriage. "Hell, I'm not the only one out of the familythat's done that." "Them Bowlings hasgot a bad habit of making mistakes marrying," his father says. "It'll be my mistake,"his son replies.

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