Hey, 2018 CAAMfest arrived and thanks to the magic of not having any shows at the “still run by the harassment-enabling Tim League” Alamo Drafthouse, tickets were purchased as a reward! (A reward for thee and me, of course! But mostly me.) Up first is what turned out to be my personal favorite of the three movies I went to, White Rabbit!
We first meet Sophia (Vivian Bang) already in character, dressed in a white with with face paint and a white jumpsuit, speaking into a microphone at an actual Whole Foods. She talks with an obvious Asian accent and recounts a classic immigrants journey in America, as customers pay confused attention. The real Sophia doesn’t have an accent nor is she the struggling mother who bought a store with her family after years of toil. She’s a single artist in LA who lives in a tiny apartment and is constantly creating outsider art for a small amount of views. Sophia survives by doing odd jobs on Taskrabbit, which leads to a few interesting encounters.
Sophia’s commitment to making her art is a blessing and a curse. As we find out from her meeting with an ex-girlfriend, Sophia treats her art as the highest priority and everything else second, including anyone she is in a relationship with and even Sophia herself. A meeting with a man who liked her work on YouTube soon turns awkward when he realizes she isn’t an immigrant with an accent and the powerful female role he envisions her in just isn’t powerful enough in his mind if she’s not speaking with an accent. He then manages to turn her obvious and vocal discomfort to somehow be all about him (the role was played by the director and collaborator Daryl Wein in a wonderfully accurate picture of certain types of supposed allies!)
Throughout the film Sophia continually runs into a woman named Victoria (Nana Ghana), at first yelling at her because Victoria locked her bike onto hers, and later Victoria is there when Sophia is speaking about the LA riots during a performance. Victoria doesn’t even recognize her at first due to her costume. Later they run into each other again, and soon begin hanging out. Sophia is smitten, but it soon becomes apparent that things are largely one directional and life soon takes another dump on Sophia. Sophia never does anything in calculated measures, she runs full force into her art, into her love life, into her self-destructive spirals. It’s brilliant because everything comes off so real, the reactions are entirely what you would expect Sophia to do, and ring true to anyone who has been around people who sometimes spiral out of control.
Vivian Bang was there for this screening of White Rabbit, and revealed that parts of it were pieced together from a stage show she did. Daryl Wein was in the audience one night and quickly knew he needed to collaborate with her, being so enthused that after an idea jam session he convinced her to film a short scene that night, which came off well enough to convince her a full movie was possible.
When people online talk about movies, you will see the term “pure cinema” repeated a lot by people who seem to have very different ideas of what that term means. But as a counterpoint, White Rabbit is raw cinema. The feelings are right there on the screen, without the extra layers of normalized narrative structure films often coat themselves with. Some films benefit from those layers, but White Rabbit is a much better film without them. It is a personal story for Vivian Bang, the trials and tribulations that would be diluted were everything more cookie cutter. Let me compare it to the movie Unlovable, which I saw literally right afterwards in the very same theater (the Kabuki Theater in SF, for those of us in the Cool Crew who want to know) Unlovable also featured a woman with a compulsion (though hers was self-destructive), it was also a personal story written by the woman who went through it, but it also featured a budget and Oscar-nominated actors. So even though it was personal, it was less raw, more refined. Not dinging Unlovable at all, it’s just different, and it is important to make distinctions. Because the raw cinema White Rabbit is full of just isn’t going to appeal to everyone. Only Cool Crew like us!
Please give feedback below!