Directed by Ira Sachs. Starring Shayne Gray, Thang Chan, Rachel Van Huss. (1997, NR, 85 min.)
REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., Nov. 28, 1997
Director Ira Sachs clearly has a lot to say, and he seems hell-bent on getting it all into his 85-minute debut feature. Sexual orientation crises, class and racial divisions, cultural aftershocks of the Vietnam war, dysfunctional families and teen sociology in the new South are all dealt with willy-nilly in a great-looking but rather unsatisfying movie that's more a display of raw filmmaking tools than a coherent artistic statement. In the center of Sachs' ambitious muddle is Lincoln Bloom (Gray), a well-off Memphis teen with major sexual identity issues. When, in an early scene, he leaves the family dinner table to masturbate, the object of his onanistic fixation could either be blond princess girlfriend Rachel (Van Huss) or the Vietnamese gay hustler (Chan) with whom he did the nasty the night before. Lincoln's remote manner toward Rachel is egregious even within a wasted social circle whose members spend most of their time getting stoned and making a circuit of parties and clubs, each more dismal than the one before. But when Lincoln re-encounters the young immigrant hustler, a half-black American serviceman's offspring named Minh, he's caught off guard by the older boy's vitality and flamboyantly romantic manner. Impulsively, the guys take off down the river on a boat owned by Lincoln's dad. Their brief Huck-and-Jim getaway is a tender interlude that, because of their disparate cultural perspectives and emotional makeups, has far deeper significance to Minh than Lincoln. For the callow, soulless Lincoln, it's just a temporary diversion from his irresolute drift back to a safer, more conventional lifestyle. But for Minh, the brush-off by Lincoln is a shattering experience, the harshest in a long series of rejections, which leads to a shocking conclusion that delivers the movie's one big emotional punch. Gray and Chan, like the other cast members, are raw neophytes recruited by Sachs for look and style, not acting polish. It's a nervy approach that, along with Sachs' veristic dialogue, creates a predictably ragged, acting-workshop feel with the inevitable mix of spontaneous combustion and wheel-spinning tedium. There's a marginally acceptable amount of the latter, but far more problematic is the groaning cargo of symbolic import that Sachs wants to impose upon Minh and Lincoln's fleeting encounter. And on a more basic level, I simply found it so hard to penetrate the two main characters' cauterized psyches that, in the end, I hardly gave a damn what happened to them. Unfortunately, for all his obvious latent talent, Sachs seems to have run afoul of a basic creative pitfall: the tendency of art that takes aimlessness and sterility as its dominant subjects to register as both.
Marc Savlov, Sept. 12, 2014
In Keep the Lights On, a spare domestic drama about addiction, filmmaker Ira Sachs makes regular use of a 1986 Arthur Russell song, “Soon-To-Be Innocent ...