Thursday, July 16, 2015

Secret Language and Broken American Dream

Poto and Cabengo (1980) - Gorin
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Young California twins, Grace and Virginia Kennedy who supposedly developed their own language, are an interesting choice as the subjects of the first film by Jean-Pierre Gorin, a former French radical leftist, student activist cum filmmaker, an expat living and teaching in Southern California. Gorin is most well known for his collaboration with Jean-Luc Godard in his 'radical period'. Reading Richard Brody's Everything is Cinema, it is quite clear that Gorin played a pivotal role in Godard's intellectual and physical introduction/education in to the radical students movement which led to May 68' and its aftermath. I knew about the film but never would have guessed that it was Gorin's until I noticed the Criterion (under Eclipse label) DVD, in which features Gorin's Southern California Trilogy (Poto and Cabengo, Routine Pleasures and My Crasy Life).

The documentary starts out with Gorin explaining the origin of the film- he saw TV news and read newspapers about the Kennedy twins. They fascinated him. So he set out to do a film about them. What he found down there in the suburb of San Diego was not only a gaggle of energetic 6 year old identical twins speaking in made-up language but the epitome of broken American Dream. Their ne'er do well father, Frank, a former GI stationed in Germany, met their mother, Chris, and brought her and her German speaking mother to the US. After being hounded by creditors, still chasing that elusive American Dream, the Kennedys moved to San Diego, living in a low-income housing formerly used by WWII Navy officers. Here Frank dabbles in real estate business and Chris, a stay home mom. After they were told that their twins might be retarded, they kept the girls isolated and the girls developed their own language - a heavily inflected English with German combined. Speech therapists and welfare workers leaked the story to the press and the Kennedys wanted to spin the story to their financial benefit.

Gorin comes in, inserting himself and his small crew into their lives and documents the fascinating case. Girls are adorable. Because they are isolated they might be a little slow to learn things, but they are quite normal hyperactive children. Gorin's approach to the parents is not that of condemnation or cynicism. He is successful at showing how the normal social construct can be harmful when it comes to the people of low-economic strata. And how people don't fit in to these neat constructs we take for granted that it could be wondrous like the short lived world of Grace and Ginny. I just wish that it turned out alright for the twins. Not according to short description on Wiki though. I'm eager to explore his other docus.