John Sayles: Independent and Underrated

0 Posted by - February 22, 2007 - Blog

I’m interested in the stuff I do being seen as widely as possible but I’m not interested enough to lie.
– John Sayles.

In the recent issue of the Sweden-based international film theory magazine filmint. on “Cinema & Realism” the work of John Sayles is explored in an article and review. Sayles is perhaps best known for his 1996 feature Lone Star, a film that unpacks nationhood, racism, social inclusion, familial bonds, and community, all with an Oedipus lens. This prolific American writer and director has been making films at a steady rate since the 1980s, and has seldom wavered from his commitment to using cinema narratives to reveal social struggles around reoccurring themes such as labour, violence, gender and race. The quiet tension captured in films like Matewan (1987), Men with Guns (1997) and Lone Star (1996) combine with Sayles’s visionary sense of aesthetic as well as his seemingly endless stream of writing talent, to bring audiences the kind of films that big studios don’t make and won’t make.

The fact that Sayles has made so many films and worked in the industry so long while maintaining total independence from the big studios (despite spatterings of commercial success which inevitably were followed by studio offers) is testament to the commitment of a politically engaged, socially concerned filmmaker. This is a point not taken lightly in the new offering of books emerging to bring theory to Sayles’s oeuvre, and filmint.’s reviewer Carl Freedman ultimately endorses one of these newest titles. Sayles Talk: New Perspectives on Independent Filmmaker John Sayles, by Diane Carson and Heidi Kenaga (eds), 2006, is a 285 page text of various essays interrogating the important work of Sayles. For anyone interested in political cinema, adding this book to your list to check out is highly recommended. Another book on Sayles, yet to be published, is Mark Bould’s The Cinema of John Sayles: Language, Narrative and Subjectivity, from which one essay also appears in the latest issue of filmint.

John Sayles may not be up for any Academy Awards and may not be as famous as the corporate elite in Hollywood, but his work is undeniably political, social, moving, and important. Sayles’s explorations into social realism capture the myriad of issues that humans face at all levels. Whether he is interrogating childhood fantasy in The Secret of Roan Inish (1994) or white supremacist turbo capitalism in The Brother from another Planet (1984) John Sayles has written and directed films that contribute to a larger narrative of social inclusion, harmony, justice and community.

As Mark Bould concludes in his essay on The Secret of Roan Inish: “By including the fantastic, or rather by constructing a fabric of story that utilizes the expressive and hopeful powers of the fantastic, Sayles infects the real – and the realistic – with a trace of the fulness that it could become.” This infection, adeptly inflected by one of America’s greatest and most political fiction filmmakers, is embroidered throughout every Sayles film. To find out more, why not visit the filmmaker’s site?

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