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Joel Mayward

The Fits

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This film from filmmaker Anna Rose Holmer is available via iTunes, Amazon, and other paid streaming services. At only 71 minutes, it feels like a lengthy short film in its scope and narrative, yet it's also deeply affecting and complex. I've nominated it for our Arts & Faith Ecumenical Jury awards, and believe it needs its own thread. My review:

Quote

Adolescence is a mystery. It’s an inevitable period everyone experiences in maturation towards adulthood, yet its onset often feels traumatic, and its resolution is ambiguous. Every adult knows what it feels like, coming of age. Few care to revisit it in their art, and those that do often offer only hazy memories or cliched moments; the latter lack the sense of mystery, while the former rarely connect emotionally. When the mystery is authentically displayed in a work of art, it can be a marvel to behold. An enigmatic blend of the immanent and transcendent, of bodies and spirits, Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits is just such a work of art.

At 71 minutes, sparse in narrative and focused on a single setting, The Fits nevertheless feels full of imagination and spunk, much like its central character, Toni. Portrayed with a calm innocence by newcomer Royalty Hightower, Toni is a quiet observer of the activities and bodies in the community center where she trains as a boxer. She watches the teenage boys who work out alongside her brother in the boxing ring. She watches the dance troupe of girls practicing in the adjacent gym. She silently slides through hallways as crowds pass her by. She notices everything around her, yet remains unnoticed herself.

Anyone else seen this film yet? I believe it played at Sundance.

Edited by Joel Mayward

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I really like this film and am eager to see what Holmer does next. I hadn't seen it until our screening at The Public Cinema in August, and I knew I was going to like it a few minutes in, when, in addition to some great boxing and dancing scenes, I noticed a lot of blue and purple in the wardrobe and set design. That sounds odd, I know, but it confirmed my suspicion that Holmer and her DP spent a lot of time watching Claire Denis and Agnes Godard films. I described The Fits afterwards as a Denis remake of Bruno Dumont's The Life of Jesus! I'm not on the jury, but if I were you'd have my strong second!

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What am I missing? Maybe missing my own kids, I don't have any. The movie was going fine for me until near the end when their 'fit' stories didn't match and one troupe member acted overly self-confident in describing her own, it was clear they were lying or doing what others describe as a rite-of-passage theatric.  That would be fine except it doesn't seem harmless. It's after causing the city grief with alarming TV news reports and costing the health department time and money with water tests, plus personal hospital and doctor visits.  When the movie ends on Toni's smirk, the writer/director almost seems to be telling girls to get attention by lying.  Toni was suddenly in the vein of Gordon Gekko (Douglas) of Wall Street and Yuri Orlov (Cage) of Lord of War, but a kid version. The most complete 180 turn a movie ever took at the very end.

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4 hours ago, Mike_tn said:

it was clear they were lying or doing what others describe as a rite-of-passage theatric

I've watched this film at least 3 or 4 times now, and I come away with a new interpretation for what the "fits" could mean each time. Is it medical? Biological? Psychological? Spiritual? Is such diagnosis even the point? It's interesting to me that, in the comment above, black bodies in apparent distress are seen as "causing the city grief" viewed through economic terms (i.e. monetary costs) and young women are assumed to be lying to get attention. I don't think one needs to have kids to appreciate the film's aesthetic or performances; I do think its meaning isn't quite so clear (in a good way), which leaves audiences really divided (if you read the Amazon.com reviews and comments, many people hate this film and its ending). FWIW, there's a great article in Film Quarterly about the film: Bodies That Matter: Black Girlhood in The Fits.

I recently decided that The Fits is going to be in a chapter of my PhD thesis as an example of a cinematic parable, i.e. a narrative-metaphor with a polyvalence of interpretations, an everyday story which teases its audience into active thought. Like Jesus's parables, I think this film, via its ordinary with an extraordinary and ambiguous ending, brings to light the audience's questions and paradigms, drawing them to the surface to be examined and transformed.

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16 hours ago, Joel Mayward said:

 a new interpretation for what the "fits" could mean each time. Is it medical? Biological? Psychological? Spiritual? Is such diagnosis even the point? 

Thanks for taking time to post Joel. You gave a good alternate view. The Spiritual angle. Prior to my first post, I had read your review snippet and portions of reviews from a few other critics online but either skimmed over too much or that idea was not discussed.  Spiritual seems the only tenable alternate explanation.  A Bio-Medical point of view seems ruled out by the events of the film, through hospital stays and health tests coming up clean. To the question; is it worth the effort to think about it at all, certainly diagnosis of the fit experience is optional but since the fit experience is central to the film and title, it should be expected.  If the girls, while in the 'fits', had spiritual experiences analogous to a person speaking in tongues, there was nothing in the early part of the film to suggest they were open to such a communication. I mean there was nothing preceding or simultaneous to make a viewer expect the person was ready for or voluntarily invited a 'fit' experience. Granted, sometimes a person does no invoking prior to communication with heaven or hell but often it does precede as with Pentecost or a seance.  I can allow the more subtle.  In the case of our girls it could be invoked by private meditation, even cosmic radiation (too many sci-fi monster movies).  Please do not be angry if I go on with my diagnosis. The Spirit element accepted, now what kind of Spirit?  Notice the girl's 'fit' prior to Toni's, talking in an overly self-confident way while describing her own experience. After that, near the end, the film majorly morphs by adding vivid fantasy elements with Toni's 'fit'. Notice in the vision, she's the star of the show. It's a spiritually middle-of-the-road experience, close to an self-induced hypnotic ordinary dream state, not pure and not the dark side. Which brings us back to something ordinary, maybe akin to fakery, however from this angle the girls are off-the-hook because they do not understand it all, they are swept away by it. It's real, strong, new, drawing them into it.  Lacking culpability, my assumption of malice is null, the ending of the film is better.

16 hours ago, Joel Mayward said:

black bodies

I'm not sure why you played the race card in your reply. I wrote nothing to suggest I was biased that way. In fact, the opposite. I playfully compared the girl's 'fits' to their behaving like a couple of white boys, the film characters Gordon Gekko and Yuri Orlov who are both much worse than the girls could ever be interpreted.  Perhaps you confused me with other reviewers you've encountered?  If the girls were white or aliens, I would have interpreted the film the same.

I could not conjure up your spiritual perspective on my own, perhaps because I profile females, but not blacks.  Profiling females....you might be challenged that way too if every other departmental employee of your day job was a woman, as mine are, I'm the only guy.   Going too far while putting on a false display to get social attention is hardly unknown among modern US or UK females.  Thank you for a better view for this film.

16 hours ago, Joel Mayward said:

I recently decided that The Fits is going to be in a chapter of my PhD thesis as an example of a cinematic parable

May that go well for you! I'll pretend I helped. The film certainly has enough heart and soul to be included in a thesis with what I now see as at least two interpretations.

Edited by Mike_tn

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Mike, thanks for your thoughtful reply, and you definitely helped in my thinking about this--I think the Pentecostal, ecstatic interpretation of the events in the film is legitimate, even if there's no overt mention of God or religion. I like this description you wrote: "It's a spiritually middle-of-the-road experience, close to an self-induced hypnotic ordinary dream state, not pure and not the dark side."

Regarding the race card, I intended no harm, but rather wanted to point out that the film is focused on black bodies (particularly female bodies) acting in ways which don't conform to the status quo. They're perceived as dangerous or contagions, and it's interesting to me that the only white character we see is the investigator woman, who is only accessible behind closed doors, and honestly does little to actually help the girls or find solutions. Might the film be a metaphor for the problem of race in the US? I think it's worth exploring. In fact, I think the film could serve as a narrative-metaphor signifying a number of things: female sexuality in general, the life stage of adolescence (regardless of gender), social conformity and following ideologies (i.e. what makes us "buy in" to a certain group, even if that group's behavior or mindset seems flawed?), religious ecstatic experiences. The director, Anna Rose Holmer, has said that she was inspired by historic cases of mass hysteria and mass psychogenic illness (MPI) and wanted to explore that idea via a dance movie.

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