Saturday, December 8, 2012

In THE LOVING STORY, Nancy Buirski gives us the real Mildred and Richard -- and more

I first recall hearing about Richard and Mildred Loving via a movie made, I believe, for cable TV back in 1996, Mr. & Mrs. Loving, in which the pair was played by Timothy Hutton and Lela Rochon (both of whom proved capable actors but neither of whom look anything like the actual people involved). The Lovings' story is an important one: memorable, uplifting and necessary, as it brought to the fore the racist miscegenation laws prohibiting inter-racial marriage that, in 1958, when the couple wed, still existed in fully half of our states (we had 48 at the time, and the law was in effect in 24 of these).

As well-done, if a tad melodramatic, as the narrative version was, what a difference it is to see the actual events presented in documentary form via THE LOVING STORY, as directed, co-written and co-produced by Nancy Buirski (shown at right), with enormous help from documen-tary footage taken by Grey Villet. Mr. Villet, a photo-journalist for Life magazine, shot his material in 1965, in that period when the Lovings were going through one trial after another, leading from State Court to Federal Court to State Supreme Court, back to the lower courts and finally to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Once married, the Lovings were rousted from their bed in the middle of the night, jailed, and then forced to leave the state of Virginia, which had been their families' longtime home. They relocate out of state and to the big city, where Mildred had never lived and where raising children proved anathema to her.

To get back to Virginia, the pair would have to tackle the law, and to do that, Mildred writes to Robert Kennedy (then the nation's Attorney General), and he suggests working with the ACLU and its lawyers. At this point we are well into a journey that would take nearly a decade to complete. (From the time of the Lovings' marriage to their return to Virginia encompassed nine years.)

Not only do we get some amazing filmed footage of the pair over this time, and of their children, above, we also get plenty of footage of the lawyers at work, explaining to us what might to be done to help the situation and the various outcomes this might have. We also see these two lawyers then and now -- as they look back on what proved to be the most important case of their lives.

This is amazing, rarely-seen movie-making, partly, of course, due to the historic footage that was  available. But Buirski and her team have whipped it all together quite well. The film begins with a man's voice explaining why interracial marriage goes against god's plan. These are, of course, stupid words, the presumption in which is rather staggering, even back in 1958. When we later learn who spoke them -- and how, by doing so, he actually helped the Lovings' case -- the effect is bracing indeed.

Seeing Mildred and Richard up close and so very personal is almost breath-taking. They appear such shy and basically decent people that we don't want to encroach upon them. Yet they, especially Mildred, possessed a keen intelligence and a strong enough backbone to push for justice and see it through. And the two lawyers, as young as untutored as they were at the time, proved equally bright and very game.

Along the way we learn about everything from the state's Racial Integrity Act to why, at the beginning of the case, one of the Lovings' lawyers possessed not even enough experience to legally stand before the U.S. Supreme Court. Because so much actual filmed footage exists, when we come to a point in the documentary -- the actual case as it was heard in the U.S. Supreme Court  -- where we cannot see real filmed footage, Buirski does a lovely thing: As we hear the words uttered in court, by both the defense and prosecution, we see visuals of the lawyers, then and now, and of the Justices at that time, and finally of Mildred and her children doing something as prosaic yet moving as shopping in the local supermarket. This is one thrilling, meaningful movie.

The Loving Story, an HBO Documentary (which fittingly premiered premiered on the cable channel last Valentine's Day) -- distributed theatrically by Icarus Films and running 75 minutes -- is getting a week's run at the Maysles Cinema in New York City's Harlem, beginning Monday, December 10 through Sunday, December 16. Click here for directions and here for tickets.

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