For those in the mood for something eerie yet thoughtful, the documentary “The Hottest August” by Brett Story is excellent. As an eccentric character study of New York City in 2017, it is engrossing and unexpected with a variety of people telling of their hopes and fears.
A Zumba fitness instructor and her husband resent the changing times filled with people who do “bad things” while insisting that racism has nothing to do with the issue.
In a local bar, two men lament the changing demographics of the city, citing new worries. One man rolls his eyes thinking of newcomers from Canada.
A man in a gallery space talks about how much risk management and economic theory excites him.
Meanwhile across the way, a quiet laundromat is shattered by the evil noise of Charlottesville when a white supremacist drives his car into protesters, killing one and injuring many.
In a park, a cluster of people gather with glasses and cardboard viewfinders. They could be watching the skies for the arrival of extraterrestrials, but they are watching for the eclipse.
A performance artist “Afronaut” walks about the same park in a spacesuit, recording the anxious times.
We see montages of crowded subway cars and in hindsight, the feelings can be unnerving and quaint: images from an era before the virus.
In another part of the city, a group of people are having a 1920’s themed festival. Avian feathered girls swirl about men with straw hats who stand as straight and as uniform as pencils.
Again and again, throughout the film, people speak of concern for their well-being and finances.
There is narration by Clare Coulter which gives the scenes a haunting quality similar to the voice constructions of Laurie Anderson.
With echoes of the film “Koyaanisqatsi” and the quirky studies of filmmaker Ulrich Seidl, director Story gives us room to breathe and ponder about the environs of New York City and of life itself. Even the teenaged skateboarders feel pursued by something surreptitious and unseen. “The future is fucked,” says one skater.
But will the pensive quality brought forth in the film bring about a new way of thinking or a crushing blight? The director ultimately leaves it up to us. Yet in this age of viral worry, it is understandable to be left with a sense of nostalgia in watching crowds of people spinning about with 1920’s era enthusiasm, looking at the men in a crowded bar or the multiples of people sunbathing on a beach. In watching “The Hottest August” the eye roams free and you will project your own opinion upon the screen.
“The Hottest August” is part of the Tropic’s Virtual Cinematheque Series. Get tickets here and support the Tropic!
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org