Saturday, May 9, 2015

Lucia Small & Ed Pincus' ONE CUT, ONE LIFE proves a difficult documentary to deal with....

...but it is one worth watching and mulling. In ONE CUT, ONE LIFE, Lucia Small and Ed Pincus -- she a middle-aged woman noted for two well-received documentaries (one of them co-directed by Pincus), he a storied-if-hardly-prolific senior documentarian best-known for his 1967 Black Natchez -- collaborate for the second time on a film about what happens when Pincus is diagnosed with a terminal illness. As might be expected the resulting movie is raw and sometimes biting, extremely personal, occasionally surpri-sing, and alternately humorous and grim.

Pincus (on poster above and elsewhere below) and Small (shown at left and further below) worked together once previously on the documentary The Axe in the Attic (about the results of Hurricane Katrina) and evidently the collaboration left something to be desired (which we don't learn all that much about), but here they are, ready to go at it once again.

Given Ed's diagnosis, his wife Jane (shown below, who was one of the several author's of the famous Our Bodies Ourselves) is not at all keen on having an interloper like Lucia constantly around to film what remains of the couple's life together. "My husband has received a death sentence, and I don't see why this should be for anyone else's delectation," notes Jane, but somehow the woman is convinced, it seems, and the film progresses -- now and then with Jane even appearing in it.

Along the way, as the pair begins to film, we learn that within the past year Lucia lost two very close friends who died violently and suddenly and now a third one has been pronounced sick-unto-death. It turns out that Ed has never has re-mastered his early documentaries, and so now he must see that this is done while there is still time.

We view bit and pieces of these films and learn some of the ins and outs of the documentary process. We also flash back and forth in time in both Ed's life and Lucia's, seeing a young friend of Ed's (David Hancock) who died some time back and eventually learn just how and why Lucia's two friends were killed. We also learn a bit about Lucia's love life, which has been missing any action for some time now.

We take the subway (above) with the pair and meet some people (a court reporter, for instance) who might prove interesting in their own film. We see and enjoy the dogs that some of these people own and love. We go back ten years earlier to view these people and their friends in younger days (wow: Dennis Sweeney could certainly have a film devoted all to himself!). We meet briefly Ed's son (Ben, below right) and daughter. And then Lucia takes a bad fall off a ladder and must recuperate.

The film is all over the place, and one thing that is missing is any sense of build-up -- even though Pincus is clearly traveling toward "the end." This is both a help and a hindrance to the documentary, as it makes us take in everything in a more moment-to-moment manner, even as it prevents us from learning some things we might want to know. What filmmakers choose to include and/or omit is finally responsible for the success or failure of their films. This one, it seems to me, alternately succeeds and fails by biting off a good deal more than it -- or we -- can properly chew.

I am happy to have seen and struggled with One Cut, One Life, which put me in touch (granted, in a very loop-de-loop fashion) with everything from the personalities of these two filmmakers to death and dying, living and loving, family, friends and animals. The documentary opens with a statement credited to Anonymous that opines: "There could be a novel by Tolstoy in everyone's life." True. But Toystoy would have managed to give that life a shape, dimension and through-line not quite found here.

One Cut, One Life -- from First Run Features and running 105 minutes -- opens this Wednesday, May 13, in New York City at the IFC Center; on Friday, May 15, at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, Massachusetts, and on Friday, June 12, in Los Angeles at the Laemmle's Music Hall 3.

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