"A Film is Burning Place" collects the works of Enid Baxter Blader, who is described on the case as a filmmaker, painter, and bluegrass musician. It collects the various short films (both in complete form and excerpts) of Blader and presents them in three specific groupings. I'll be very upfront, I have little idea of what to make of the more experimental content here, but what does stand out is the fascinating short documentary, Local 909er. It's such a powerful piece of filmmaking that it could have been the feature piece and everything else considered bonus content.
Local 909er isn't a standard documentary though, like many of Blader's works, it is filmed and assembled in a very unique fashion, consisting of varying film stocks as well as still photographs. Blader begins our journey at the Salton Sea and mud volcanoes that reside nearby. This area is part of Inland Empire, California or the 909 (the area code that serves the cities and communities featured here) and Blader shows us through still photos that this was once a thriving upstart community that quickly became abandoned when the environment did what it does best: the unexpected. As we watch footage taken by Blader of the amazing mud volcanoes she mentions everything is "under shaky ground." It's a theme that takes on multiple meanings over the course of the film's 25-minute runtime.
The heart of the story being told here lies in the surrounding areas. It is chilling to watch footage of Victoria Gardens, a corporate shopping mall designed to resemble 1950s downtown America. Blader films portions of the footage here in a fashion that resembles what you would expect from a 1950s home movie, but we are quickly reminded, visually, this is not 1950s America. Victoria Garden and other nearby chain stores like Wal-Mart and Target leave a wake of destruction in their path. Blader explains that when Target decides to build a superstore in an area, it's cheaper to abandon the old store and start anew. The result is a shell of a building that spreads its lonesome disease to other nearby business resulting in an area of dead buildings. The parallels between this modern upstart community and the Salton Sea become very apparent to all but the developers themselves.
Blader's own home and community in Upland is an ironic contrast to the manufactured luxury communities popping up in nearby Norco and Chino. Corporations seem to think these fancy homes and luxury amenities will recapture the 1950s spirit the same way Victoria Gardens is supposed to. However, Blader's simple description of her own community reveals its not how things look that makes them special, it's the people themselves who are the heart and soul of where we live.
I honestly can't heap enough praise on Blader's work on Local 909er. It is made from the heart, tells a story that I'd likely have never known, and sends a subtle message. Blader's narration never panders or preaches, it's honest and objective. The mix of varying experimental film styles gives the film a truly unique, rough, and real look. Out of all the pieces featured in this collection, this is the one that shows Blader has great talent.
I don't want to take away from the rest of the collection though, either, but as I stated previously, I don't really know what to make of most of it. Local 909er is presented with two other films Secret Apocalyptic Love Diaries and an excerpt from The Revival of Lee Mackey. The former is a collection of brief episodes examining human lives. It's filmed very roughly and like Local 909er (and the other pieces for that matter) doesn't pander or explain itself.
The second collection of shorts on the disc are present under the sub-heading CB Transmissions and Other Faith Healing Aids. These are very short, non-narrative pieces, half of which are excerpts, running under one-minute each. I didn't feel much connection to any of the material here. If nothing else, they show the range of Blader's filming and editing style, as well as her unique use of sound in many instances.
The final sub-heading, Burning Films, contains one short film, Lucille and an excerpt from Letter from the Girl. Lucille is an obvious homage/tribute to the infamous scene in Cool Hand Luke, where and unidentified blonde washes her car in front of the prisoners. In that film, Dragline (George Kennedy) dubs the woman Lucille, ironically calling her innocent, when its very obvious as to what her intentions were. The excerpt from Letter from the Girl feels like an homage to a 60s/70s thriller and while filmed very straightforward, highlights Blader's unique use of sound and music.
As a whole the complete collection is a little on the weak side, with the second set of short films just not making much of an impact. However, Local 909er is really the crowning achievement here and so good, it makes the disc worth checking out.
The full screen presentation of the pieces here varies in picture quality. Its obvious Blader uses a variety of film stocks so not everything is crisp and clean looking, but that is hardly her intention. There is no digital enhancement of any of the footage luckily and when the most modern of media is used, detail is well above average and rich with color.
Like the video quality, the audio quality varies for a variety of reasons, mostly artistic. During Local 909er, the audio is clear and well mixed, with Blader's haunting use of music lingering in the background. There were a few moments of slight distortion that proved to be annoying at times, that I wasn't sure I could chalk up to being present in the original source material.
"A Film is Burning Place" is an interesting look at an artist through her own work. I don't want to discredit Blader's wide variety of efforts, but personally, I viewed everything aside from Local 909er as a bonus look into the mind of the artist. This is not a straightforward collection by any means, it can be obtuse and frustrating. However, the good here far outweighs the vague. Recommended.