“Beginners” Was True New Beginning
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
I used to have an apartment on Cooper Square in New York City, just across the street from the Cooper Union building. That’s the art college that filmmaker Mike Mills graduated from. Likely he drank two-for-one beers along side me at nearby McSorley’s Tavern, ate pizza next to me on St. Marks Place, and bought used magazines beside me on Astor Place.
After Mills graduated he worked as a graphic designer, producing album covers for Beastie Boys, Sonic Youth, and Dirty Ol’ Bastard. That led to directing music videos for Yoko Ono, Moby, and Air.
His first feature film was called “Thumbsucker,” a comedy about a teen who tries to cure his oral-digital problem with hypnosis, sex, and drugs.
Now Mills is back with “Beginners,” an autobiographical film about a graphic designer (played by Ewan McGregor) who discovers two startling facts about his 75-year-old dad (Christopher Plummer): That he is gay and has a terminal illness.
You see, Mills’ father came out of the closet at age 75 after 40 years of heterosexual marriage and died a few years later. Mills says his father enjoyed “five very intense, brand-new years of being gay and being very free.”
He adds, “OK, so my parents were married in 1955 and my mom knew my dad was gay and my dad knew he was gay and so I was, like, 'Why in the heck did you get married?' Like, what was going on? What was that time? It's like this crazy paradox that my whole life is based on, or my family's based on. So I spent a lot of time trying to understand ’55.”
Sticking to real time, Mills’s film is a period piece. He uses still-image montages that juxtapose clippings from Look magazine with photos from Mills' family albums to recreate 1955. “That’s kind of a by-product of me being a graphic designer as much as I am a filmmaker,” he says of the technique.
Was “Beginners” a therapeutic way of dealing with this revelation about his father? “No,” he says, “I didn’t set out to make a memoir, or a therapy piece. I meant it to be a story. My dad coming out is an incredible story. For me, it’s the perfect story.”
“My film is pretty autobiographical,” Mills admits. “There is a lot of true stuff about my dad, lots of facts. He really did have tattoos on his chest from the radiation registration, for example, and it’s in the movie.”
Hm, I wonder if Mills also sucked his thumb?
[from Solares Hill]