Saturday, April 04, 2015

Flare: Marginal Communities

We Came to Sweat
Today's retrospective Flare viewing includes two shorts by Silas Howard and a documentary on the now-departed Starlite Lounge in Brooklyn.

Howard's two films focus on Bambi Lake, one-time Cockette and unlikely punk spoken word artist, whose song "The Golden Age of Hustlers" provides a narrative device linking the two, to explain her life, from her days as a hustler on Polk Street to today, when she admits she's not especially happy, as she sits glammed up outside a cafe. While I was not so taken with the recreation of the song with Justin Vivian Bond singing, I did find the short documentary, Sticks and Stones, fascinating and would like to know much, much more about this pioneering performer.

The Starlite Lounge was that rare thing: a black-owned bar providing a non-discriminatory space in pre-Stonewall New York. Kate Kunath's documentary, We Came to Sweat, picks up the story in 2010 as the bar is threatened with closure, a victim of the gentrification of its corner of Brooklyn. I would have liked to see more on the neighbourhood and the changes befalling it, but Kunath sticks close to the bar itself, which rather limits the scope of the story. I found the film overlong and repetitious, once the basic facts were established: the bar was established in 1962 and provided a safe space for its patrons. This point is repeated so often it becomes tedious. In the end, commerce wins out and the bar loses its leases and never reopens. What happens to the community is not pursued.

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