Chameleon Street

Chameleon Street ★★★½

I feel odd rating this film because (in serendipitous fashion) of the opposite reason that Blue Is the Warmest Color left me cold: a film so deeply personal that I find creating a critical entry point for myself no easy task. Chameleon Street is a film so deeply buried in one's man psyche that it's hard to garner what the filmmaker thinks of the action. For instance, the film closely rides the line between being sexist and a critique on the patriarchy. Buried in a sexist mindset, is the filmmaker drawing parallels that the protagonist can't see, or is he missing them himself? I can't say with much certainty.

What I can say is that despite being visually flat (I assume more to budget constraints than anything else as many of the shots utilize ideas of balance to stretch ideas or underline points), the film likely is the closest representation that I've seen of what W.E.B. DuBois calls the "double consciousness" of being black (this film is harder for me to wrap my head around than Malcolm X). Dubois gives name to the idea of living through European norms and society while retaining an African heritage, of seeing and defining one's self through the eyes of others. The film is literally about someone who mimics expectations of others to get ahead in life, but its plot is not the only way that it expresses the great sociologist's concern. In editing and rhythm, the film has trouble retaining focus (sometimes to my own dismay), drawn by some powerful force that momentarily redefines Wendell B. Harris Jr's Douglas Street. The most enigmatic example, in my opinion, is when a viewing of Jean Cocteau's La Belle et La Bete completely changes the trajectory of the final act of the film.

In the film, Street talks over his own words. The film cuts his thoughts out in mid stream, jumping from an extreme close up to a wide shot or another scene altogether, presenting a disconnected and discombobulated film, reflecting a psyche that is being pulled in multiple directions at once.

I often did not know what to make of the film. It certainly ran counter to many things that I expect a "good film" to do, but I still might say that it's a must see for being such a dissonant voice to the standard expectations.