I have always loved crazy women--in fact, I come from a long line of 'em. It has always fascinated me to observe a crazy woman unleashing herself on others like a hurricane. This is the basis for my fascination with "Alma", the brilliant film by Ruth Leitman, director of "Lipstick and Dynamite". When I read Eleanor Ringel's review of "Alma" in The Atlanta Journal when it was released, I knew I had to take the afternoon off from work and go and investigate. I remember the review mentioning a "bombshell" of a shocker that took place while the documentary was being filmed, and knew I wouldn't be waiting until that evening to see it, much less until it came to video (the rental format in those days). Good thing--it has now been 10 years since the release and it is just now coming to DVD. HALLELUJAH!
"Alma" is a one-of-a-kind Southern dysfunction film in the tradition of Tennessee Williams. It has everything one could want in a film about a crazy but lovable Southern tornado and those she leaves in her wake. Hear Alma talk about the gnome who took her down at the grocery store, or the "overhead" that she talks to, and listen to her reminisce about her first sexual experience at the age of seven with an uncle in a cotton field as if it was the usual way these things are done. Hear her explain away child sexual abuse as "I just thought those things would be better learned in the home." And see her attempt to take a leg of lamb into an Atlanta courtroom to invoke Jesus into the proceedings!
The amazing thing about Ms. Leitman's film is that it fuses all of its truths and revelations with equal parts of respect and humor. I remember hearing her answer questions about the aftermath of the film at a question and answer session when I saw the movie the second time. She said that Alma, the main subject of the film, would ask people if they had seen her movie, and that she sort of basked in the glow of celebrity that it brought. I think that speaks to the director's even hand--even with the film being as revelatory as it was, it was never sensationalized. That is great film-making!
The other subject of the film is Alma's long-suffering daughter Margie, who, like many children of insane Southern belles, manages to eclipse her origins, making a better life for herself that is informed by her childhood rather than crippled by it. Margie also has an incredible amount of patience and empathy for her mother, demonstrated time and again throughout the filming of this amazing testament to the resilience of the human spirit. I think the tag line on a postcard advertising the film that I picked up at one of the screenings sums it up best, "She's not crazy, she's my mother."
One footnote: If you love movies like "Sordid Lives" and "Come Back to the 5 & 10 Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean" then you will adore "Alma"--she's the real thing!
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