Sini Anderson’s documentary The Punk Singer is many things. It has been unfairly criticized for being a glowing highlight reel of Kathleen Hanna’s artistic, feminist, activist, and musical projects bordering on hagiography, and for not focusing enough on the larger movement of feminism or Riot Grrrl. In my view, those misguided criticisms miss the fact that the film, at once fierce and delicate, delivers feminism through a punk rock lens via the life and music of Kathleen Hanna.
Review by Denise Papas Meechan
Direct Route (2015). 48 minutes. Directed by Pam Minty. Featuring: Pam Minty.
Someone as wise as Dr Seuss once said that sometimes you will never know the value of something until it becomes a memory. An event-turned-nostalgia can conjure up the emotions, the feelings, the sounds, the smells, and especially the sights of a past occasion. Memories remind us of the people we love, the times shared with them and the happiness that lives on because of that moment. All our memories help us grow into the being we are to become. Memories are who we are. In her documentary film, Direct Route, Pam Minty explores the use of memory to rebuild the past of her now blind mother, Martha. Minty portrays the blindness cleverly, showing the audience how it is not a handicap to her mother, but rather an avenue she uses to make her life more fulfilling. Blindness is never a hindrance in this film, more likely it is an asset—Martha’s loss of sight helps her relive the memories in richer detail. Martha never once pauses in her nostalgia to remember a vision. Those sights remain clear in her mind.
The conceptuality of memory is played against the abstract emotions bound together in the relationship between mother and daughter. Throughout the documentary, Pam and Martha voice-over word games as they play. Word games are the glue for the close, assured bond felt for each other. The word play is a metaphor for the love and trust mother and daughter feel for each other. The comfortable security Minty feels for her mother tugs at the heart of every daughter and mother who are lucky enough to know that specific, immeasurable love.
A traditional soundtrack or music score is replaced by these voice-over word games, natural sounds of the lake, and orally expressed memories of past fishing trips, placing the viewer inside the women’s relationship unhindered by sounds or even the sight of the filmmaker and her mother. We only catch a glimpse of the filmmaker whilst she is driving in the first shot, on a phone call to her mom. Martha, on the other hand, can be seen in full view walking across her driveway, and we are allowed a few more glimpses of her—typing, choosing outfits from her closet and peeling potatoes.
As Martha navigates through her new, sightless environment, Minty brings us on a lulling, meditative landscape tour of the places that constructed her mother’s worldview; the locations that the mother and daughter hold dear, not for their aesthetic beauty but rather for the events those places continue to hold and carry for them. The locations, shot on 16mm and mainly including the lake around Eugene, North Bend/Coos Bay, Oregon, serve as a trigger for the emotions so clearly and deeply felt by Pam and Martha. Minty doesn’t use reenactments or actors to display this. Rather, the landscape shots hold everything we, as the audience, need to know. Recollections of the good times spent there are implied rather than described with the use of the word game voiceovers between mother and daughter—their bond sketched on the lakeside background. By doing this, Minty brilliantly shows us how memories and feelings are not concrete, and neither are the explanations of place and time.
Direct Route is not merely a film, but more a meditation of love and bonding between family members. It steers us through a relationship built solidly over years, over changes, and over time and place, and in itself stirs up the need for nostalgia. Martha reads from a poetry book written in braille in the final passage of the film, about a child that used to play in a garden nearby, but now only a “child of air lingers in the garden there.” That child, like her daughter, now a dear memory rather than a physical sight. And maybe, as this film makes us think, that memory is more present than the child ever was.