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ingo, Bridesmaids, adn Braces

Tearsheets: MFA

Suggested headline: BINGO, BRIDESMAIDS & BRACES fails to live up to its potential

BINGO, BRIDESMAIDS & BRACES

Co-produced and directed by

Gillian Armstrong.

With Diana, Josie, and Kerry.

Plays Thursday and Friday at 6:30 pm

at the Museum of Fine Arts.

By MANAVENDRA K. THAKUR

THE BASIC IDEA IS SO SIMPLE that one can't help but wonder why documentary filmmakers don't pursue it more often: make a film that interviews interesting people at a young age and then follow along at regular intervals as the kids grow up and become adults. The contradictions, affirmations, and vicissitudes of life are just sitting there, waiting for someone to capture them in all their complexity. That's what Gillian Armstrong has tried to do in Bingo, Bridesmaids & Braces, a film that traces the lives of three young working class Australian women named Diana, Josie, and Kerry. Unfortunately, the film's editing is too scattershot to reveal any universal value in the changes and growth of these three women.

In 1976, Armstrong made her directorial debut with a 25-minute short film called Smokes and Lollies. In it, the three women, who were all 14 years old at the time, revealed their romantic dreams about husbands, weddings, and motherhood to Armstrong's camera. All three said they wanted to wait until age 18 to get married.

Four years later, in the 47-minute-long 14's Good, 18's Better, Armstrong interviewed the same three girls again. Armstrong found that Diana was both married and pregnant and her husband Keith was being convicted of an assault charge. Kerry had broken off an engagement at age 17 and firmly believed in the importance of a career. Josie had become pregnant at age 15 and was struggling to survive as a single mother of two small children.

In 1988, Armstrong once again decided to interview the three women, who were then 26 years old. Bingo, Bridesmaids & Braces includes footage filmed for the previous two films as well as new footage, so Armstrong's latest film is a full-length feature documentary. The unfortunate reality is, however, that the film is muddled. Armstrong has obviously gained the confidence of the three women, and her filming technique is certainly capable of handling the interviews and other shooting. Where the film goes astray, however, is during its construction in the editing room. There doesn't seem to have been much thought given to organizing and presenting the wide-ranging material as a coherent, integrated whole.

For example, the film often jumps repeatedly and rapidly from one time frame to another without warning. At other times, the women offer articulate and fascinating insights into their lives, but they do so in voice-overs while the images on the screen typically show them washing dishes or sending the kids off to school. These images are exceedingly uninformative and they often have little or nothing to do with the voice-overs. The result is that the film simply squanders much of its potential value.

One might argue that Armstrong constructed the film in this way to avoid the stigma of a "talking head" documentary. That may be true, but a director of Armstrong's experience and capabilities cannot fail to be aware of the alternate techniques that exist in documentary filmmaking. If she doesn't like those alternatives or considers them inappropriate to her subject, perhaps she should have experimented with the form and devised new techniques of her own.

Clearly, one has to make allowances for the fact that Armstrong did not consciously set out in 1976 to make a series of films about the three women, and one can only admire Armstrong's willingness to forego big budget commercial film offers to make this documentary. Nevertheless, the conclusion about Bingo, Bridesmaids & Braces is inescapable: the finished product has a certain intrinsic value, but that value is unnecessarily diminished and undermined by the film's haphazard construction.

[el1l]

On both nights at 8:15 pm, Bingo, Bridesmaids & Braces will be followed by High Tide, Gillian Armstrong's 1987 feature film starring Judy Davis. High Tide is a successful, if slightly oversentimental, narrative film about the reunification of a 12-year-old girl with the mother who deserted her years before.