The L.A. Rebellion and the Personal Life

Curator's Note

Two men in a revolution, a lover and a fighter. The film is David Lean’s Dr. Zhivago. When they meet, the fighter informs the lover that “the personal life is dead in Russia; the Revolution has killed it.” I recalled that moment as I watched Larry Clark’s revolutionary film, Passing Through.

It centers on a young musician (Eddie WAR-mack), recently released from prison, and a young photographer (Maya), only half-heartedly committed to her professional success. They are a spirited match, but they are dancing a delicate duet, rarely stepping in stride.

He is a jazz saxophonist who enjoyed local fame before he was incarcerated. She is a photographer enjoying larger fame and fortune she fears she has paid for with her soul. She quits her job to pursue her dream; he is attempting to re-claim his stolen dream. He works with sounds, she with images. She seems to understand, and is moved by, his sounds. He demonstrates no interest in her images.

But why?

A man released from prison with precious few employment prospects finds himself with a woman more successful than he, richer than he, and apparently freer to follow her own creative lights. She is confident enough to quit, to face an unknown future armed only with her camera and her sense. He is angered by her freedom, frustrated by her self-confidence, shamed by her success. He feels more power in a pistol than his saxophone. The Revolution has killed the personal life.

It did not begin this way. When they meet, he bristles with his own self-confident aura. Her attractiveness is different. She appears less guarded, though she is as elusive, silent and self-contained, when she offers him a ride. They exchange glances, half-smiles, few words. He is waiting on her, waiting on her name. Finally he asks for it; she hesitates. As he leaves, she relents. Her name means dream and destiny.

The fateful question now is whether he can devote sufficient care upon her name. If he is just “passing through,” then he cannot warrant her care and devotion. Whatever revolutionary politics--and revolutionary music--he embraces, his story must pass through intimacy, and thus through her.

The film concludes on a note of profound doubt and ambivalence. Whether this man, both casualty of and agent in a social revolution, will bury the personal life or help to resuscitate it, is now the question.

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