Wednesday, June 03, 2009


Movie review: Steam

Poster for 'Steam'Last week, I saw a movie that I really liked: Kyle Schickner’s Steam. Mr Schickner’s philosophy is that there can be interesting films about people other than straight white men, and he — a straight white man — is committed to making interesting, engaging, thoughtful movies about women (straight or lesbian), gay men, African-Americans, and other characters that mainstream filmdom is less inclined to take risks on.

Steam tells three stories of three women, woven around their periodic chance encounters in the steam room of their health club. The steam room provides the title, and an occasional point of focus. But the three stories — of a young college student (Kate Siegel), a 40-ish single mother (Ally Sheedy), and an aging African-American woman (Ruby Dee) — are what form the movie, as it weaves us in and out among them. We watch the three women as they go about their lives and cope with domineering manipulative men... and we see the changes in them as they learn, at each different age, to build strength of their own.

Cartoonist Alison Bechdel popularized a test for movies; a character in her cartoon strip will only watch a movie if:

  1. it has at least two women in it,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something besides a man.
This movie does not actually pass that test, as it turns out. Yet I think that anyone who would apply that test would be pleased with Steam, nonetheless.

Steam is a movie worth watching if you don’t judge your movies by how many explosions they have (none), or by whether the boy and the girl are together in the end (they’re not).

The only thing is that it might be difficult to find. If you see a screening of it (and the previous paragraph doesn’t put you off), go. I saw it at my local independent-film theatre, the Jacob Burns Film Center, and had the opportunity to talk with the filmmaker (writer, director, producer), Kyle Schickner, afterward.

Otherwise, the DVD is due out this fall. I’ll be buying it. [And you can watch for it on Mr Schickner’s web site, FenceSitterFilms (sorry: the entire web site is in Flash; I hate it when people do that).]

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