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Dark skinned hipster blues: Medicine for Melancholy review

"I'm with you in Rockland

where you must feel very strange"
- from poem Howl by Allen Ginsberg
published by San Francisco's City Lights in 1956

Before I get to the dark skinned part and before I get to the review, allow me do a little work to rehabilitate & reclaim the term hipster. The first group of people to be identified as hipsters by mainstream America probably were beat writers (made world famous by publication of Jack Kerouac's On The Road in 1957) and people who resembled them in their taste in art & entertainment, clothing & life styles, and who held humanistic political views (I'll use humanistic - concerned with human dignity and well being - as Truffaut was humanistic, instead of leftist here - as the term leftist has a distracting anti-military & anti-capitalist component - as Godard was leftist, to indicate that at the core of the beat outlook were greater freedom for and acceptance of people who were rejected or looked down upon by mainstream society at the time; such as minorities or non-"white" people, gays & lesbians, artists whose work reflected or advocated views outside of the mainstream - people who needed to be elevated & included in America's positive definition of human individuals - so humanistic politics because it was ideas & action in the service of people who were made outsiders by the preceding widespread notion of the ideal or first-class citizen/resident/member of the American republic). Hipster may have been an insult when it first came into mainstream use in the late 1950's, and these days, 50 years or so later, hipster is still used as an insult by people who do not know (in the same way people insult the military or capitalism out of ignorance) about the amazing amount of benefit that the republic has received from individuals who approach the world with a deep interest in exploring and participating in the making of art and entertainment, self-expression, philosophy, other cultures & nations & peoples, education for the sake of education, environmental protection concerns, feminism, integration, quality of life, individual and community rights and liberties. Being quite possibly the best place on the planet to enjoy the greatest variety of life styles, rights, art & entertainment, and individual liberties, America is a hipster nation. This quality gives the nation the ability to have sectors in the economy that generate billions of dollars a year and also makes America a very appealing place for some of the best and or most motivated minds on the planet and attracts them here, thus ensuring the continued success of the republic. So, hipsters are good for America & the world (since hipster concerns are often in line with greater freedoms & liberties for individual humans world wide). Keep that in mind when you see someone use the term hipster in a negative way in the future.

50 years after Jack Kerouac's novel On The Road introduced several "white" hipsters to the world, this year Barry Jenkins introduces two "black" hipsters to America through his very well made film Medicine for Melancholy. What makes the two African-American characters in Medicine hipsters? The current elements of hipster culture in America include D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself) or real independent music and film, and film and music similar to such work (though they may be created & distributed by large corporations and not by individual artists or small businesses) - specially the kinds of bands that are loved by a lot of "white" indie/punk/alternative types or hipsters; the male character Micah (Wyatt Cenac) expresses his interest in such music and dresses in a fashion similar to many fans of such bands, and the female character Jo (Tracey Heggins) makes her own t-shirts to celebrate female filmmakers - another practice that is very much at home within the current, widely held definition of hipster culture. At the start of Medicine we find the two characters waking up after a party, after sleeping together. Then they step out to sun-drenched San Francisco and Jo attempts to return to her life as if nothing happened. Micah, however, wants to spend more time with Jo and through some hard work, he gets his wish. We follow the characters throughout the course of one day, through several interesting places of San Francisco, and observe the evolution of their relationship. Of the two characters, Micah is the hipster with the blues. He is upset at wealthier people causing poorer people to move out of certain neighborhoods, and he is upset at the lack of "black" hipsters in San Francisco, and he seems to be upset at interracial dating - although he himself has practiced it. Jo, on the other hand, or at first glance, seems comfortable with choices she has made for her life; choosing to see individuals as individuals first and then as members of an ethnic group, being in a romantic relationship with a "white" man, not segregating certain activities into "black"-only or "white"-only areas. Though these are some of the concerns of the movie, Medicine is a treat for the eye and the ear; great cinematography (by James Laxton), great visuals/sights of San Francisco, and great music. Medicine is definitely an art film; in the sense that most people in America may not find it to be great escapist entertainment as a lot of our widely distributed and available movies are, however, the relaxed and relaxing tone of the film (yes, in spite of the concern with race and economic class) and the amount of thought and care that has obviously gone into the creation of the film makes Medicine a deeply satisfying & thought provoking experience. In short, Medicine is good art - in my opinion, and it might also be good entertainment for at least a couple of million people in America.

On The Road sat on the shelves - unpublished - for about 10 years, if I recall correctly, because publishers at the time were unsure if it would sell, if the buying public were ready for such a relatively unusual work. Road is now considered an American classic and is studied in high schools and to this day generates millions of dollars for publishers. Hopefully modern film distributors will be both wise enough to recognize the good opportunity they have in Medicine, and will be wise enough to figure out how to market it well so that everyone who maybe interested in seeing it will get a chance to find out more about it & see it.

Medicine could be a great tool, a soft introduction, for a discussion and or debate regarding individuality, race, slavery, gentrification, and capitalism. On a less grand level, it is a great low key movie to watch with your girlfriend after a busy week, and perhaps a good opportunity to re-connect with your curious, creative, and yes, hipster, self.

I'll end with a couple of questions for people who have watched the movie; what's Jo doing hooking up with a guy like Micah and then doing what they do the next day about half way into the movie at his place if she is so comfortable with her life? Also, are we seeing the end of Jo and Micah's relationship at the end of the movie or are we seeing its beginning? At first I thought it was one thing, now that I've thought about it for a bit, I am not sure.

- Sujewa


Anonymous said…
Sujewa - great comments on the word "hipster"! I've been thinking about that exact thing a lot lately. The Right have co-opted and ruined plenty of perfectly good labels ("grass roots" comes to mind), and one of the worst is "politically correct", where the impulse to make people in society behave like people in a great society is treated like a problem, and while the actual political correctness is to say nothing/do nothing about bigotry, sexism, and so on.
keep up the good work
The Sujewa said…
Thanks for the comment Erik, & checking out the blog.

- Sujewa
Anonymous said…
In answers to your questions at the end:

I think she was into something different than what her current typical life gave her. Maybe that is who she really is but is faking her life. Or she just wants to try something different - even for one night. Or, maybe she just got really drunk and messed up. Regardless, she had fun.

I think they will see each other again. Micah never seemed like the character that gave up or took no for an answer. In the beginning I clearly remember him going door-to-door looking for her.

The movie rocked. If you haven't seen it (anyone reading this) go.

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