`Michael Blanco' is a film about the odyssey of a novice Belgian actor named, Michael Blanco who comes to Los Angeles to become a professional actor-perhaps even a `movie star' in today's Hollywood.
Belgian actor, Michael Goldberg's warmly touching performance as the aspiring immigrant/outsider-Michael Blanco, vividly reflects the `private moments' of self-motivation and self-despair that accompanies this stranger in a strange land. Blanco is motivated, but frustrated and isolated by his limited facility with the English language (he privately exhorts himself onward in his native tongue-French) and marginalized even more by the quixotic cultural terrain that is `Hollywood'-that elusively defined amalgamation of dreams and desperation, reality and imagination. The irrepressible siren song of Celebrity once again is a prime mover, a secret-agent behind Michael Blanco's trek to the Capital of Cinema-the place where the Holy Grail exists definitively--as celluloid.
More film as cinema-verite than film as `movie'-that is, more impressionistic and nuance driven than plot-pointed with classic three-act story structure, `Michael Blanco's' opening images of our protagonist's `arrival' in seaside Los Angeles is a cipher for the overall tone of the film. Belgian director, Stephan Streker, let's us know right off the bat, that we are dealing with timeless and universal themes here-oceanic symbolism suggestive and reflective of that `inner' or hidden reality just below the surface-of how we live our lives. Streker's narrative structure is intuitive and fluid, he seamlessly shifts the `point-of-view' between that of Michael Blanco--single-mindedly on his personal quest to gain what he tells us is his destiny, his ultimate testimony to the world and to life, -- and us, as we view his longshot bid for `inclusion' into the Hollywood field of dreams-the `big leagues', and how decidedly overmatched Blanco is trying to symbolically scale `Mount' Hollywood. Menial jobs, humiliating auditions, diction lessons and crippling self-doubt and finally, self-knowledge await him on the self-imposed climb. Streker punctuates his story with vignettes of two comedic `commentators' who function as a kind of black Greek chorus on the vagaries of `stardom' and the pursuit of it-giving the piece some funky jazz-like comedic riffs to counterpoint the intensity of Michael Blanco's inner experience.
Functioning symbolically in the film as Hollywood's 'gatekeeper' is an Acting Coach played by real-life `A-list' acting coach, Larry Moss, in an original and refreshing turn as Michael Blanco's teacher in the dramatic arts. These student-teacher sequences are absolutely riveting as the diminutive Goldberg and the towering Moss in action, further accentuate the David and Goliath aspect of Michael Blanco's quest. The Acting Coach alternates between bullying and sweetly cajoling Blanco with such physicality and verve that it feels voyeuristic-like you're really a fly on the wall in a one-on-one acting session where there's an intimacy-a kind of `stage' bonding that perhaps only performing artists and athletes fully appreciate. The Coach here is another cipher. In a key scene, Michael Blanco is asked which would he rather be, an `actor' or a `movie star'? Hmmmm....yet Blanco's answer is quick and succinct and precipitates a fiery exchange between the student and the teacher that goes to the heart of the whole piece-is it the destination....or the journey? What motivates a person to put everything-all that they've got, on the line to be judged and more often than not, rejected-and still keep on keeping on? How bad do you want it? Do you have anything `real' to offer? Are you any `good' at the craft at all? How long do you keep at it? Is this your grand passion, or just a fleeting fantasy?
Stephan Streker's direction has an improvisational feel to it that suggests an organically evolved story not intent on manipulation but suggestion. You aren't `told' how to feel about Michael Blanco or Hollywood, yet the images pull us into the realm of identification. Identification with that mixture of innocence--of exuberance, desire, confusion, disappointment that we all experience, rich or poor, big or small, famous or anonymous in our own personal quests to have our lives make sense, to amount to something, however ill advised or naive, or awkward our attempts may be. Michael Blanco is in a sense, the `outsider' who wants `in' to participate in the procession of image and idea propagated by the American Dream Machine that has so influenced him and countless other `foreigners'.
The movie `industry' that we have today-for nearly a century now headquartered in the vicinity of Hollywood, California--was heavily shaped and molded by immigrants and the sons and daughters of immigrants. Michael Blanco, and the current new wave of post-modern immigrant actors and filmmakers that he symbolizes-`hitting our beaches,' if you will-is simply the squaring of the circle. What goes around comes around. The only question is, will the current artistic migration result in helping to stem the current tide of cinematic cliché or merely insinuate itself into a comfortable assimilationist aesthetic stance? Happily, `Michael Blanco' aspires to the more progressive position.
In this film, (shot entirely in Los Angeles with a small crew, `guerilla' style) the director visually casts L.A. in a twilight gaze of seductive tones, showing familiar and not so familiar locales of the city with the fresh eye of a first time visitor. Streker shows us glimpses of an L.A. that sparkles and twinkles with possibility, yet is suffused with the pervading sense of loneliness and alienation, especially as metaphor reflected in the city's absolute dependence on the car and the serpentine highways snaking throughout it. The film is beautifully shot and edited, and the music and scoring is truly inspired. It's not enough to simply graft music to a movie, it has to add texture and create atmosphere to compliment the emotional flow of the story. `Michael Blanco' never delivers a false note in regards to how the music doesn't `telegraph' the story but simply, underscores the effective moments within it. Goldberg and Moss's performances shine and are ably abetted by fine actors in a lean ensemble of minor roles.
Ironically, in this post 9/11 environment of strained U.S. French relations, `Michael Blanco' is a testament to the still strong bond between America and the French, especially in the realm of freedom of expression and to the interdependence of dreams. The `American' dream is really everybody's dream. The dream of a place of grand possibility and self-realization-at least if one is able or lucky or both. As we should all be aware of by now, that place really only exists in the minds of those who believe it-you won't find it in Hollywood or any other material place. After seeing this film, I'm convinced that the filmmakers of this poetic gem of a movie know all about carrying `the Dream' inside of you, and thereby keeping it with you wherever you may be-through thick and through thin.
Lynx H. LeOrisa
Aspiring playwright-librettist and film fan.
August 2003, Los Angeles, CA
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