Cinematheque: ‘Hidden Figures’ and ‘Moonlight’

After my weekend of theatre I spent a few days unwinding with an old reliable friend – the cinema house.

I was in the horrors on Sunday, after Saturday night’s dramatic extravaganza (where for the first time ever I saw a performance of a self-written play. Thanks to ego , in my previous plays , I have always cast myself. Not being certain whether I could convincingly portray a leopardprint clad female character, I decided it would be wiser simply to be a spectator on this occasion).

The day after a show ends is always depressing and dull – the adrenaline rush has vanished. The rehearsal schedule has finished, and ephemeral world of the production has dissipated. It’s a time of anxiety, disappointment and wistfulness. These productions are magical in retrospect (not necessarily in their preparation mind) and the miniature, temporary family created during each run, cannot be replicated.

To cheer myself up I went to the pictures with a friend. To the Cineworld on Parnell Street. For our visual entertainment we had chosen ‘Hidden Figures’. This is the tale of three black, female mathematicians and engineers working for NASA during the early 1960s while the space-race between the USA and USSR was in full flow. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, these women were key in platting the trajectories of the rockets as they flew to space and returned to earth.

Meanwhile they had to run half a mile to access the ‘Colored Ladies Washroom’, as segregation was still in place.

It was an interesting film that effectively captured the stifling pressure of a toxically oppressive and abusive racial climate. While at the same time offering up glimpses of excitement and hope for the brave new world. I wonder how much things have changed in the fifty five years that have passed since the film’s timeline.

It stars Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Costner (good to see him, if only because it means I no longer need to ask ‘Whatever happened to…?’); Maharshala Ali and Janelle Monae (make a mental note of the names of these last two).

It was well acted and engaging, and reasonably life-affirming without being cloying. The life affirming elements didn’t make me want to pull my hair out, as the background story was in fact very interesting. There’s little I loathe as much as worthiness, so the space race and civil rights movement gave an interesting historical context.

It is worth seeing.

After work on Monday I decided that an additional cinema excursion would be beneficial to my mental wellbeing. As it is Oscar season all the non-blockbuster, non-sequel, non-superhero films get released around this time of year. Meaning that there are several options for interesting films.

‘Moonlight’ was highest on my ‘to-see list’. I had first heard of this almost a year earlier in the gay press which was already raving about it. Clearly the powers that be agreed and the previous evening it had won the ‘Best Film’ award.

Based on the play ‘In moonlight, black boys look blue’ by Tarell McCraney, it tells the tale of the character of Chiron, at three different stages of his life., the difficulties he faces because of his homosexuality and the abuse he suffers because of it. As a ten  year old, as a teenager and as an adult.

Essentially this is an art-house movie – the plot is quite incidental, nothing much happens. But the cinematography is stunning. This really is a beautifully shot film. The sense of yearning that Chiron feels for his best friend Kevin is wonderfully captured and really quite painful to watch.

As it is told over three stages of the main character’s life the cast (with the exception of Naomie Harris who plays Chiron’s crack addicted mother throughout all stages of the film) varies with each segment. The performances are incredible. Maharshala Ali (of ‘Hidden Figures’ fame) won an Oscar for his role as a Cuban crack dealer Juan. Though his performance was matched by the rest of the cast (including Janelle Monae – she of ‘Hidden Figures’ fame – who played his girlfriend in this one).

This was the first film with an all black cast to win the Best Film Oscar. It was also the first film with a gay lead character to win.

And amazingly enough the ending is quire hopeful.  Chiron survives.

Considering that films with gay lead characters generally require a tragic ending where the gay character must die as a sacrificial lamb, so that we can all learn a lesson about humanity (I’m looking at ‘Brokeback Mountain’; ‘Milk’; ‘Philadelphia’; ‘Boys don’t cry’ here) the fact that Chiron lives and in fact looks like he might find that elusive happy ending for himself, is definitely progress.

I loved this film.

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