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The director of this film, Tony Buba, actually visited my college while
I was studying as a film major. I have to admit, when I first heard
that an independent filmmaker was coming in for a visit, my first
thought was of a pretentious intellectual lecturing us on the
bankruptcy of the current crop of Hollywood films before boring us to
death with a lackluster film of his own. Thankfully, that couldn't have
been further from the truth.
I won't talk at length at Buba himself, except to say that he was a very nice, articulate guy who spoke with us and came off as a man who truly loved film and was proud and happy to be a director and that, for better or worse, he never compromised by making a movie he wasn't in love with and responsible for every step of the way.
However, Lighting Over Braddock doesn't need to be defended as merely the work of a nice guy - it's a wonderful little film in its own right. In some ways, it feels like a cross between Roger and Me and Adaptation, as Buba tells a story of... himself, trying to film a documentary about the economic downfall of his hometown, while he's being constantly interrupted by a series of comic fantasies (including a bizarre parody of a "Devo" music video and another where he explains why he couldn't get the copyrights to "Jumpin' Jack Flash" by the Rolling Stones) and a former actor of his named Sweet Sal who demands to be a part of this new film.
On one level, the movie is simply a lot of energetic fun, moving from one sketch to the next quickly and generating a lot of humor from the absurdity of what's happening. Yet at the same time the movie never forgets the plight of the steel workers that are losing their jobs as a major plant in the area closes, and the movie largely focuses on Buba's sense of helplessness and anger, manifested in his frequent daydreams. How can he make a movie that articulates his anger towards the corporate fat cats screwing over the working class average Joe, while at the time keeping the movie entertaining enough that someone will want to watch it? And how can he get rid of Sweet Sal, constantly insisting that he's the real star of the piece? The humor of Lightning Over Braddock is clever without seeming gimmicky, Buba is a wonderful main character, his creative impulses torn between his wandering imagination and righteous anger, and Sweet Sal is a memorable, one of a kind joker, doing everything he can to stay in the picture for another five minutes. I highly enjoyed this film; it's a shame that when your run-of-the-mill vapid Hollywood blockbuster is available on DVD in bare-bones, special edition, and super special edition flavors Lightning Over Braddock can only be seen if a print somehow makes its way to your school or local film theater. Oh well if it does play nearby you, make sure to check it out.
The name Tony Buba may not top anyone's list of famous filmmakers unless you've lived near the town once called Little Pittsburgh: Braddock, Pennsylvania, where Buba is a local celebrity after making more than a dozen short documentaries about the once prosperous but now dying steel town and some of the more colorful characters still living there. In his first full length feature Buba embellishes his own documentary work with some unique, original low budget creativity and plenty of tongue-in-cheek Catholic guilt over his continuing success in a depressed economy. All his old pals are on hand: eternal optimist and professional failure Jimmy Roy; new wave accordion player Steve Pellegrino; middle aged street punk and jealous would-be star 'Sweet Sal'; and Buba himself, the quintessential struggling independent filmmaker, whose social conscience is constantly at odds with his dreams of making a big budget Hollywood musical. His film is a funny, irreverent, one-of-a-kind 'rust-bowl fantasy', intended as a cross between 'Mean Streets' and 'Amacord' but resembling instead a bittersweet collaboration between Studs Terkel and Errol Morris.
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