Sunday, June 23, 2019

Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails' "The Last Black Man In San Francisco" at SIFF Cinema: Jun 21 - Jul 11

Directed and produced by Joe Talbot based on a story by friend and collaborator Jimmie Fails, this directorial debut by Talbot, pivots off of life experience into a elegiac, and haunting story of America's transformation and the displacement of the urban west coast working class. In the case of Fails, his fictional avatar Jimmie lost his home in the titular city, but has found residence in the cramped Oakland home of the grandfather of Jonathan Major's character, Montgomery. This story is told through their dual vantage, in what Manohla Dargis calls, "an indelibly beautiful story of love, family and loss in America", from two childhood friends turned filmmakers, "‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’: Lost in a Dream City". Drifting from East Bay to city proper, Jimmie moves across the landscape of the two cities. Revisiting the metropolis of his once-home, waiting interminably for buses that never arrive, skateboarding from one corner of the two cities to the next, investing himself in his work at a San Francisco nursing home, he is forever in transit, with rare moments of stasis and rest. The home which his family lost decades before is revisited again and again as a destination out of reach, but still accessible in Jimmie's obsessive upkeep and maintenance of it's grounds (much to the chagrin of it's San Francisco Boho residents). As though perseverance, ritual, and patience will eventually lead the house back into his hands.

Against these weekly rituals, the film is a plaintive and expressionistic American odyssey, filled with rapturous, surreal and melancholic moments that define the lives of both Jimmie and his faithful artistic friend, Montgomery. Working through a deeply invested work of his own, Montgomery is a playwright and illustrator who's observations of life in Oakland are channeled into a work of fiction that seems to be manifesting the dream of the movie itself. The cumulative "Last Black Man in San Francisco", is a kaleidoscope of surrealistic jolts, impassioned cries for justice, class conflict, community marginalization, and a resonant hallucinatory beauty that almost watches as though it moves directly out of Montgomery's mind into the viewer's. Funded under executive producer Brad Pitt's Plan B banner, and A24 Distribution, the work of the "The Minds Behind 'The Last Black Man in San Francisco'", swept critical attention at this year's Sundance Festival, in this, "Joe Talbot’s Bittersweet, Unforgettable Debut". More than just a question as NPR's feature suggests, 'The Last Black Man in San Francisco' is About Who Belongs in a Beloved City", the film acts as a deeper observation on the effects of extreme wealth stratification on the cultural fabric of a historied place, which once harbored a wider body of peoples, communities, and wealth and culture classes. David Fear's review for Rolling Stone more explicitly refers to the film as the work of two Bay Area filmmakers delivering a rage-filled valentine to the city they love, "‘Last Black Man in San Francisco’: Race, Gentrification and an Instant Classic". Because, as the film's protagonist himself states after overhearing the conversation of two aspiring careerists while riding public transit; "You don't get to hate (San Francisco)," Jimmie says, "unless you love it.". This being the key to the dream kingdom of Talbot and Fails, and our admission to their impassioned "Elegy to a City".