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Review by Sean Bugg
Rating: (3 out of 5)
Sunday, 10/18/2009, 1:00 PM
Feature presentation, $10 at Shakespeare Theatre’s Harman Center for the Arts
IF YOU’RE AN opera queen and an AIDS activist, Fig Trees is likely to rock your world. If you happen to just be one or the other, you’ll find much here that will inspire and interest you.
If you’re neither, well, the outlook isn’t quite so great.
Director John Greyson is the innovative and provocative creator of such films as Zero Patience, a didactic AIDS musical that now seems like a mere prelude to his ambition for Fig Trees.
Greyson combines straightforward documentary footage on the issue of AIDS drug availability in South Africa with a stylized and fictional structure the includes Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson’s opera Four Saints in Three Acts, as well as a boy dressed as an albino squirrel and a quadruple amputee playing keyboard with his stumps.
If that last doesn’t scream ”film festival fare” to you, then I’m not sure what would.
Greyson seems to be after everyone, from capitalist corporate greed to Bono’s celebrity altruism, mixing scathing interviews from activists and public health experts with hyper-stylized music videos that rewrite the songs of U2 and Bruce Springsteen to explicit political points. But with so much going on at every moment, any compelling factual moments that tell the important story of what has happened in South Africa are quickly swept to the side of the screen by addendums and digressions on trains, palindromes and literary theory.
Mish-mash that it may be, Fig Trees is visually stunning — the squirrel boy and a nun sing face-to-face in a downpour of vapor, their voices reaching towards each other through shifting swirls and eddies; the shocking pinks and reds of the pop-opera interludes; tattooed opera scores tracing around the necks of the singers.
With so much to see, there’s lamentably little to take away.