She Don’t Fade opens with Zoie Strauss sitting down in front of the camera and directly addresses the viewer. She talks about how we’re going to see a video from the director, Dunye, and then Fade cuts to a shot of Dunye cleaning up a sidewalk vending table. The title card gradually comes up.
Then director–and soon to be star–Dunye sits down and talks about the video, what it’s about and who she plays. She’s a woman a year out from a breakup who’s getting back into dating, but she’s got a new style she’s going to try out when meeting women.
Then either there’s another scene with her in character, or it’s photographer Paula Cronan appearing onscreen to talk about the video. And her character. Scenes play out, Dunye talks about them. Dunye meets a woman–Wanda Freeman–and they go on a date, which doesn’t get much interruption, only for the subsequent sex scene to just be raw footage of them shooting the sex scene and Cronan directing them.
Oh, I forgot: Dunye sometimes talks, in character, directly to the viewer. Sometimes she and Cronan will come up with scene ideas. For a while, Fade is very much about seeing the conceptual process behind the video. Though not the filmmaking itself.
Dunye soon meets another woman, Gail Lloyd, and starts pursuing her. But off-screen. In the first-person, looking in the camera narration about it, however, it’s never clear if Dunye’s in character or not. Not really.
And all the scenes with Dunye (in character) and Freeman and Lloyd are without diegetic sound. We never get to hear what Dunye’s new approach to dating sounds like.
The finale is just the narrative, no more talking about how the video is going to go or work. It’s well-executed, but nowhere near as engaging, confusing, or compelling as the earlier scenes. During the oscillating “reality” and narrative, Fade is urgent. It loses that urgency as it goes on.
Still quite good, Dunye just doesn’t go anywhere with the narrative format, which has been distinguishing Fade since the first shot.
Written, directed, and edited by Cheryl Dunye; director of photography, Paula Cronan; released by Third World Newsreel Film Collective.
Starring Cheryl Dunye (Shae Clarke), Paula Cronan (Paula), Wanda Freeman (Margo), Gail Lloyd (Vicki), and Zoie Strauss (Zoie).