Review of Lynne Sachs’s Tip of My Tongue

By Katie Grimes

Tip of My Tongue (2016). 80 minutes. Directed by Lynne Sachs. Featuring: Dominga Alvarado, Mark Cohen, Sholeh Dalai, Andrea Kannapell, Sarah Markgraf, Shira Nayman, George Sanchez, Adam Schartoff, Erik Schurink, Accra Shepp, Sue Simon, Jim Supanick.

Still from Tip of My Tongue

There is history, and then there is memory. Though both are hardly objective, memory is impossible to remove from personal experience. Often, what we remember from a historical moment is a strong emotion, an intimate moment, the people and objects who surrounded us when the event took place. In Tip of My Tongue, director Lynne Sachs explores the dynamism of memory through poetry, archival footage, and personal interviews; her artful collage of moments intelligently portrays the beauty that often lies hidden in the minds of those around us.

In her film, Sachs brings together twelve New Yorkers born in the early 1960s. Though strangers, together they explore their memories of the past five decades in the intimacy of Sachs’s home. From countries as wide-ranging as Australia, Iran, and the Dominican Republic, participants relive JFK’s assassination, the AIDS epidemic, Occupy Wall Street, and more. As Sachs describes in her narration, “Together we construct a collective distillation of our times, building an inverted history of deep breaths, illness we don’t understand, assaults, the death of a princess, a struggle of a president, a lost envelope, terror. … And so we begin our memory game.”

To my delight, Sachs isn’t afraid to experiment. Her film begins with flashes of color illuminating handwritten notes. Dates accompanied by lines of poetry, some crossed out, appear too quickly to read while archival footage plays in the background. Our eyes only catch a few words here and there: Bob Dylan, Russian spies, the Vietnam War. The montage reminds us of how memories often live in our minds as fragmented, half-remembered pieces sprinkled with bursts of emotion. Throughout the film, Sachs uses close-up shots to confront viewers with the faces of those who remember. We hear them recite their stories in their own words, the intimacy of which reflects the individuality of each of their experiences. Audio is faded in and out to represent the fragility of those memories. In one scene, two participants lie in opposite directions with their heads next to each other, eyes closed. Viewers can see one participant speaking but hear the other’s voice. Like so many elements of Sachs’s film, this scene has layers of meaning. When two people think about the year 1978, two completely different moments come to mind, offering a diverse experience of history.

Tip of My Tongue is entrancing. As someone who was born in the mid ’90s, I am distantly removed from many of the events mentioned in the film. To hear personal accounts of the Iranian revolution or Nixon’s resignation was surreal for me, offering me a glimpse into a past I never experienced. I can only imagine the memories Tip of My Tongue would unearth for those who have lived through those same events. This film offers viewers a brilliant visual representation of what it means to remember. The metaphor one participant uses to describe the nature of political change can easily be applied to the human brain: “It’s like the paradigm of being part of an organism rather than part of a machine.” It’s hardly simple, or even logical, but isn’t the complexity what makes it so interesting?

The world premiere of Tip of My Tongue will include two screenings of the film at the Museum of Modern Art as a part of Doc Fortnight 2017: MoMA’s International Festival of Nonfiction Film and Media.

The screenings will be 7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 25, and 5 p.m. Sunday, February 26 in Theater 1 in the Museum of Modern Art.

View the trailer for Tip of My Tongue and Katie Grimes’s profile.

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