The Michigan Daily
Friday, April 12, 1991
dir. Wendell Harris
by Jen Bilik
and Gregg Flaxman
64 W illiam Douglas Street, Jr.
Born in a log cabin in the backwoods
of Kentucky, young Douglas soon
elevated himself from field hand to
Tiger, from Tiger to reporter, from
reporter to doctor, from doctor to
coed, from coed to attorney from at-
torney to congressman, from con-
greg ;man to president... Yeah, I
could play president."
As he biographs himself in the
O third person, Doug Street (Wendell
Harris) marvels at his elusiveness.
Delivered at the end of the ac-
tor/screenwriter/director's sly new
film Chameleon Street, the words
-epresent both Harris' brilliant,
self-aware ponderings and his own
Chameleon Street, recent winner
of the Jury's Prize at the Sundance
Film Festival, finds its rhythmic
*guide in Doug Street's wicked and
beguiling narration - in the actor's
deep voice, which becomes the
film's bass line. His gravelly, se-
ductive narration defies retrospec-
tion, becoming a sort of running
commentary on the sequence of
events that others facilitate by their
Oddly intelligent, Street glides
iito various identities with ease and
credibility, minus the pathology of
multiple personalities; he always
maintains an underlying sense of
witty, insightful observation that
structures the film's shifts. Just be-
cause it's about an African-
American man assuming various
identities, it's not the ebony Zelig.
The movie is entirely different,
ultimately something charming,
disturbing and amusing.
Constructed in the vein of stu-
dent films and low-budget first fea.
tures, Chameleon Street utilizes
technological innovation, such as
slow-motion and distorting shots,
to compensate for cheap set design.
Where some aspiring films appear
pretentious and facile in their use of
#on-hollywood techniques, Harris
fprges a style that remains consis-
tent yet surprising, using form to
alert the audience to content.
Angel Heart lost potential
popularity to controversy over
Cosby wunderkind Lisa Bonet's
foray into the grotesque, one in-
stance where complaints about
moral content didn't guarantee a
blockbuster hit. It's actually a fine
movie: suspenseful, exciting and
tricky, and charactered by a disori-
enting world of misread signs and
symbols, much like last year's less
intelligent Jacob's Ladder. The
film's significance comes less from
metaphor itself than from the
tempting impossibility of making
meaning at all.
Mickey Rourke plays a detective
(hired by a cryptic Robert DeNiro)
patterned after the Oedipus model,
searching for the solution to a mys-
tery that turns out to be himself.
Alan Parker grapples with the con-
vention of self-searching, staging
the difficulties of being both inves-
tigator and investigated, illustrat-
ing the confusion of a seemingly
disordered world where self and
other become fused amidst a sea of
The Louisiana setting is both ex-
pressionistic and realistic, a con-
temporary New Orleans that serves
as a facade for backyard voodoo.
Fans spin eerily from every ceiling,
coming to represent the cyclical,
nested quality of Rourke's search.
Rourke delivers a compelling per-
formance, giving credence to his
idolization in the eyes of the French,
though they still contend that Jerry
Lewis is a brilliant comic actor.
Never can tell about those French.
Angel heart will be shown to-
morrow at 7:30 in MLB 4.
of Alfred Hitchcock's
thrillers, Strangers on a
See CAMPUS, Page 8
Michigander Wendell Harris directed and stars in Chameleon Street, his new film about a con artist who gets
into all sorts of crazy situations. It sounds kind of like Fetch, except it's witty and well-done.
Street starts out working for his
father's burglary alarm installation
business, and in a burst of exuberant
scheming, decides to blackmail a
Detroit Tiger player's wife by
falsely revealing her husband's infi-
delities. But his accomplice sends
the letter to two newspapers, sign-
ing Street's name and catapulting
him into an odd instant of brief
fame that leads to a career as a
Realizing the utility of well-de-
veloped lies, Street applies as a
Harvard Med School graduate for an
internship at a Michigan hospital..
With no credentials, he performs a
successful hysterectomy before be-
ing discovered as a fraud. Thus the
film progresses through Street's
various identities, each of which
calling for special expertise which
he somehow feigns convincingly.
Street's success functions as a
martial art: he performs on the
weaknesses of his opponents, who,
in most cases, are white profession-
als all too ready to accept Street's
exotic talents. The racial subtext is
subtle; rather than pitting black
versus white, Street's manipula-
tions rest on his ability to assess
gullibility. In one scene, a seedy
white man intrudes on Street's ro-
mantic dinner with his wife, asking
how much she "costs." Street is re-
luctant to respond until the man
grammatically misuses the verb
"fuck," after which he goes into a
litany of proper uses for the exple-
tive. It's suave, it's articulate and it
earns him a punch in the mouth.
Chameleon Street is a very liter-
ary film, not in a superimposed way,
but because it reflects Street's char-
acter as one who reads and finds rel-
evance in literature, art and pop cul-
ture. He's equally comfortable re-
lating to his non-literate friends
(who note his skill with words) as
he is with over-intellectualized
Yale students (Harris used various
Ann Arbor locations to depict New
Street's relationships with
women, particularly his wife, his
girlfriend and his daughter (whose
Barbie doll he spray paints black),
are cryptic - he appreciates their
intelligence and femininity, but
seems confused by their expecta-
tions of him, which makes him very
self-aware. In sessions with prison
psychologists, Street analyzes him-
self in their terminology, ascribing
his chameleon nature to giving peo-
ple what they want - and simulta-
See STREET, Page 8
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