Tuesday, July 19, 2011

BWIFF ’11: Goldstar, Ohio

Ohio is a state ruled by football, high school, college and professional, largely in that order. For the most part, they are people of faith, who support the troops and their neighbors. That sense of community also entails a shared sense of loss when several members of reserve unit based in small town outside of Cleveland suffers heavy casualties one awful day. The experience of witnessing and receiving news no relative wants to hear from uniformed officers is captured in the monologues of Michael Tisdale’s short film Goldstar, Ohio (trailer here), an alumnus of the G.I. Film Festival, which screens at the Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival in Illinois this Saturday.

In accordance with procedure, when two Marines arrive to make death notifications, they first stop at the office of Police Chief Jeff “Goob” Garver for an escort. This is now required for their protection, after several surviving family members have physically lashed out at similar messengers. They would not divulge the names involved, only their destination addresses. Of course, in a relatively tight knit community, it was not difficult to figure what was happening and who was affected.

Goldstar carefully avoids addressing any of the political issues surrounding the Iraq War (or Afghanistan for that matter). However, it indirectly refutes Oren Moverman’s defamatory The Messenger. Marines assigned to bereavement duty are always the most disciplined of the Corps, rather than the drunken basket-cases like Woody Harrelson’s character. Yet, the military never appear directly in Goldstar.

Drawn word-for-word from interviews conducted by Tisdale, Goldstar is about sudden grief and acute empathy. As wrenching as the family’ stories are, Garver’s monologue is perhaps more moving, because it reflects feelings that are truly humane. It also helps that Tony award winner Bill Irwin portrays Garver with finely wrought sensitivity and intensity, while also perfectly capturing the halting cadences of an interviewee. Indeed, Goldstar has a rather big name cast for a short film, including another Tony winner, Mercedes Ruehl, who is brings devastating gravitas as grieving mother Adriana Rock.

Despite the monologue format inherited from the film’s stage roots, Goldstar is very cinematic thanks to the rich warm look of cinematographer Mark Schwartzbard’s lens and NICKCASEY’s surprisingly effective incidental score. It is definitely worth seeing regardless of one’s opinions on the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya. It screens this Saturday (7/23) at the Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival in Palatine, Illinois.