Bad mama, who cares ★★★½


This strikes me as a study of mapping patterns. Exterior and interior are organized along with different types of energy. The perimeter of a suburban home is encircled with bamboo fencing, giving the illusion to both the camera and the viewer that light is jutting through space in potent, upright slats. McCaffrey compounds this impression once on the inside by cutting to thin horizontal wicker blinds, sending the sunlight from outside piercing through in thinner, more concentrated bands.

Once we are inside the house, there is a substantial shift in light. The windows are blown out in pure camera white, and the interior details begin to emerge in a kind of mustard haze. We hear the clang of a railroad crossing in the distance. But more importantly, McCaffrey introduces the idea of another energy source -- not the sun, but more earthly forces. We see hands placing positive and negative electrodes onto a chunk of black rock; a splitting apricot pit in a jar, suspended by toothpicks, and a bowl of metal filings, moved around by a magnet underneath. Electricity, magnetism, plant growth -- these are forces that are somewhat stealthier than light, but no less present.

As we see more of this, we begin to get a portrait of the occupant of the house. She is a woman who is not yet elderly but past middle age, with a penchant for potted plants and dyed fabrics, all shown by McCaffrey as being, in a sense, surrogate film-practices, all light-based endeavors. That is, we are seeing a portrait of a colorist. (This is emphasized toward the end, when we see her in close-ups on her porch, enjoying a colorful variety of Flavor-Ices.) As her visage is fragmented by what appear to be in-camera editing maneuvers, she is flattened, made flush with window screens and the surface of the film itself.

McCaffrey's film has much in common with Ben Rivers' portraits of creative outsiders, although until recently those films have focused primarily on men. It's vital to consider this woman (who is actually a geologist, Ren Lallatin) and her conceptually organized clutter in tandem with McCaffrey's title.

What's a bad mama? McCaffrey might mean "bad" in the same sense as "wicked" or "sick," that Lallatin kicks major ass. But then her title could also be posing a gender conundrum. Is she a socially unacceptable "mama"? We are looking at a collector and a nurturer of things, which is, I guess, not what women are supposed to do. She is a mother of bad objects. But the final two words of the title are polyvalent, aren't they? Lallatin cares. But if she didn't, if she performed "femininity" wrong, so what?

Pardon the pun, but clearly this geologist rocks.