Blu-ray Review: Luminous Motion | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, November 21st, 2019  

Luminous Motion

Studio: Kino Lorber

Aug 12, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Filmmaker Bette Gordon's work is ripe for reappraisal. Many historical reviews of her films are cringey artifacts of a decidedly less woke time, treating the films' explicit feminism as a distracting bug instead of their primary feature. Admittedly, Gordon's never quite made a "perfect" film, and she's certainly never been prolific (though one wonders, given Hollywood's checkered past with women directors, how much that's her fault), but there's still plenty in her slim ouvere to pick apart.

Gordon's 1998 feature Luminous Motion came into the world a full 15 years after her excellent debut Variety, a remarkable film chockablock with iconic early '80s NYC hipster talent (screenplay by award-winning author Kathy Acker! Acting and production stills by photographer Nan Goldin! Score by John Lurie!). It's a very different film, emblematic of its time in its own way: it's dreamier, more expansive, and streaked in hypersaturated hues, its aesthetic positively screaming late 1990s. Some people loathe this period in film processing, since it became the visual palette for about a decade of cheesy music videos, but it suits the material here just fine.

What of that material, then? Scott Bradfield's screenplay, based on his own 1989 novel The History of Luminous Motion, starts as a road movie, with precocious 10 year old Phillip (Eric Lloyd) riding along with his mother (Deborah Kara Unger) as she seduces men and steals their stuff before they have a chance to notice. Phillip loves the road life so much, he doesn't notice how much his mother is slipping until she slips straight into a seemingly stable, suburban domestic situation with new boyfriend Pedro (Terry Kinney). 

The action turns oedipal at this point, with Phillip taking extreme action in hopes of getting the mother/son team back on the road. Add to that a father (Jamey Sheridan) who keeps trying to contact Phillip (and who may or may not be a figment of Phillip's imagination at times) and some hilariously surly teenagers who feel dropped in from another movie, and things get continually stranger.

It's easy enough to get caught up in this weird ride, but there are some questionable choices throughout. Some of the dialogue, and especially Phillip's frequent voiceover, seems overly precocious and stilted, the kind of thing that reads pleasantly enough but rings hollow and fake aloud. The pacing is also a bit uneven (though one could argue that this adds to its dreamlike nature). 

The production quality for the Blu-ray is spartan but strong, with a fine transfer and limited special features (including production stills from the aforementioned Nan Goldin). One hopes that such a package might help the film, which did little commercially at the time and received mixed reviews, finally find a larger audience. While not a career highlight, Luminous Motion is a fascinating work; it's worth seeing past its shortcomings to appreciate the craft and nuances of a still-underrated filmmaker.



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