Set ten years after the most peaceful revolution in United States history, a revolution in which a socialist government gains power, this films presents a dystopia in which the issues of many progressive groups - minorities, liberals, gay rights organizations, feminists - are ostensibly dealt with by the government, and yet there are still problems with jobs, with gender issues, with governmental preference and violence. In New York City, in this future time, a group of women decide to organize and mobilize, to take the revolution farther than any man - and many women - ever imagined in their lifetimes.
Directed by: Lizzie Borden
. Starring: Honey
, Adele Bertei
, Jean Satterfield
, Florynce Kennedy
, Becky Johnston
, Pat Murphy
, Kathryn Bigelow
, Hillary Hurst
, Sheila McLaughlin
, Marty Pottenger
, Lynne Jones
, Ron Vawter
, John Coplans
There is so much to unpack about Born in Flames after a first viewing (much belated I must say, I feel regret this wasn't there or I didn't find it when I was younger), but the first thing that comes to mind about it is television and media. Where do all of these "issues" - I put that word in quotes for almost ironic purposes, as worker's rights" equality for women, equality for black women, homosexuals and other women who have been made to become second class citizens as their quasi-original sin based on their gender andor who they were born to in society - intersect and become amplified, or have the chance to? You gotta be on television, dummy! Borden's use of TV as this dangerous, insidious medium, where the great damage is reallyoften by these men (and sometimes bourgeois white women) in their glasses and suits seeming to have authority when dismissing attitudes and just ideas of the other, is staggering. I think this, even more than the title song, is the glue and spine of how this all can stick together.
I say stick since this is, really, experimental and punk rock cinema at its fiercest and dirtiest. Borden at first gives this the appearance of a documentary - Chris Hegedus and DA Pennebaker turn up in the credits, though the latter I think was a special thanks it shouldn't be underestimated his influence here - but it is not quite that. Sure, that is blood flowing through this stylistically, but there are many scenes shot and meant to be scripted with actors as well. Then you throw in archival footage of demonstrations and other things - actual marches, police beatings and rages against the system, from what appears to be the past ten years - and it takes on a shape that is all its own. It's like if you had dropped Peter Watkins in the lower East side, and he hadn't been born Peter but, well, a woman, and one who understands her place is total shit in society.
Is it messy as all get out? Could any bits be cut? Im sure if I saw it again id find a place or two. Would I dare tell her where? Not a chance. This has the energy of revolutionary cinema, and I dont mean that more polished but didactic kind one may have seen from Godard in the 60s, albeit that sense of ambition is there. This has a big cast of characters, from the black section of the women's army to the (white, middle class seeming, including Kathryn Bigelow?!) journalists trying to meet the women halfway, to the agents hounding the women on their trail (these scenes carry the kind of authenticity that made me think of how the FBI also infiltrated and tried to put the kabosh on the Black Panthers, which was also full of women), and the women in the pirate radio stations giving fuel to the fire on the streets and so on. Sprinkled in are vignettes showing right at street level women being oppressed economically and with their bodies. Early on the first action taken by the womens group is to bicycle around to police attacks when no one else will. And then, well, the guns become a necessary evil for them.
Is there some wish fulfillment and flights of fantasy? I'm sure there are. At the same time everything is of the same piece which is Borden saying: there is already economic suffering for everyone, but if you don't come to our help, there cant be equality in a country - regardless of if this post "liberation" as this is meant to be set ten years after (I thought of Hunger Games, except Born in Flames would eat that dystopia for lunch) - whether it is construction workers or sex workers or a waitress or whomever. And Borden goes goes the extra provocative step of... Violence is not something preferable but, well, what else is there to do if you men wont stay by our sides in the fight against the corporations?
One might say that this isn't as relevant anymore; the women's marches last and this year were full of men not only supportive but possibly empathetic to the struggle which is constant in an America that values wealth and whiteness and the MALEness and all that horseshit bag of chips (just look at the president). With the exception of the last scene, which hasn't aged well for what will be obvious reasons to anyone who's been alive since this film came out, it actually is even more relevant than ever. When a piece of science fiction satire about the falsehoods and depravity and decay of society is made it's about when it is written - 1984 is about the 1948 Orwell was in, Huxley in 1932 with Brave New World, many of Dick's works, Hunger Games too to a lessor extent - and Born in Flames is Borden looking at Americans in the time of that "New" America of Reagan saying "no, things aren't right, things are really worse despite the women's movement that did little, and if you don't see the class issue above all else then you'll never come to see through our eyes."
In other words, any of the technical amateurism here (acting too, though theres more good and natural performing than not, especially from the black actors) is all not of concern when substantively this is one of the richest works of volcanic-hot, Pompeii-the-Earth satire that has existed from an American filmmaker.
Review by MisterWhiplash from the Internet Movie Database.