Tag Archives: Third World Newsreel Film Collective

The Potluck and the Passion (1993, Cheryl Dunye)

The first sequence of The Potluck and the Passion, with director Dunye (also acting) sitting down and talking with girlfriend Gail Lloyd about the dinner party they’re about to throw. They go over the guest list as the opening titles run, who’s invited, why they’re invited, why Dunye and Lloyd are throwing the party (it’s their one year anniversary but Lloyd isn’t really comfortable with saying they’re dating).

Dunye and Lloyd are basically playing the same characters from Dunye’s previous short, She Don’t Fade, but it turns out there’s zero continuity between the two films. It also doesn’t matter because after Dunye and Lloyd have the first post-titles scene–Dunye’s trying to give some guests directions, Lloyd’s getting the apartment ready with help from friend Robert Reid-Pharr.

It’s Reid-Pharr who gets the film’s first aside, where–in now familiar Dunye fashion–sits and talks to the camera. He’s talking about his character, not talking as his character. His monologue has a lot of personality; better than his performance, but he’s still effortlessly likable sidekicking for Lloyd.

Potluck then cuts to the guests who need the directions–Nikki Harmon and Myra Paci–whose delayed, overly complicated journey to the party is the film’s only subplot. And Harmon and Paci never get monologue moments, their story is solely dramatic. Though comedic.

Once the party starts, Dunye and Lloyd become background to the main plot–guest Shelita Birchett decides she maybe likes other guest Pat Branch (who also co-wrote) far more than she likes her awful girlfriend, Nora Breen. Birchett and Breen get frequent monologues, mostly in character, but starting with the actors talking about the parts. The very clear subtext is Breen is dating Tracy because she’s a Black woman (and Breen is a condescending, controlling, culturally appropriating white woman). Branch isn’t just a Black woman, she’s an older woman with very different experiences than Birchett, who–in addition to dating a white woman–has always tried to live in a white world.

The chemistry between Branch and Birchett is electric–their performances are excellent–and having Breen directly address the viewer lets the character be terrible, but always realized. She’s never thin, because of how the monologues support the dramatics.

Dunye’s shooting on video, so the lighting is always off. She’s got some great composition, which embraces the video medium and is ambitious with it–there’s just no way to light it. It’s not Dunye’s fault, it’s the medium. It’s video.

Dunye’s direction of the actors in the dramatic scenes is fantastic, as is her editing of their monologue delivery scenes. And she and Branch’s writing is excellent.

Potluck and the Passion is occasionally cringe-inducing, often very funny, and always inventive. Dunye’s direction and Branch and Birchett’s performances are superior.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Cheryl Dunye; written by Pat Branch and Dunye; edited by Antoine Bell; released by Third World Newsreel Film Collective.

Starring Shelita Birchett (Tracy), Nora Breen (Megan), Pat Branch (Evelyn), Cheryl Dunye (Linda), Nikki Harmon (Lisa), Myra Paci (Kendra), and Robert Reid-Pharr (Robert)


RELATED

Advertisements

She Don’t Fade (1991, Cheryl Dunye)

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.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

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).


RELATED