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Great Speeches from a Dying World

  • Film
  • 3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

If you were to encounter the subjects of this doc on homelessness—the down-and-out denizens of Seattle—you’d ignore them. That’s assuming, of course, that they weren’t in the middle of a raging rant, in which case you’d rapidly cross the street. The way people living on society’s fringes tend to become invisible or inspire nothing but fear and loathing is something filmmaker Linas Phillips wants to change; he wants to rehumanize them. After folks like Tomey, an ex-con crack addict, or Jonas, a Native American who’s never recovered from losing a child, tell their own stories, Phillips has them recite selections from the unofficial greatest-oratory-hits collection. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy and several biblical psalms are delivered straight to the camera, each taking on a poignant, and often poetic, new perspective.

It’s a risky gambit that proves Phillips’s artistic sensibility has evolved since his narcissistic gonzo-travelogue, Walking to Werner (2006). He occasionally undermines his own good intentions, as when a particularly heart-wrenching rendition of Chief Sealth’s 1854 invocation of the dead is capped by a self-consciously swooping camera movement backward. Still, the film’s success in giving the voiceless a platform balances out Phillips’s more precocious and pretentious flourishes.

Written by David Fear
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