By Don Simpson | January 8, 2011
Director: Boris Frumin
Writer(s): Boris Frumin
Starring: Gilbert Giles, Yelena Shevchenko, Patrick Godfrey, Gina Delio
Roy (Gilbert Giles), an African-American, befriends a young Russian immigrant named Lisa (Yelena Shevchenko) shortly after using his bicycle tire to protect Lisa from her ex-boyfriend in a subway station. Lisa is unemployed and homeless, so Roy allows her to squat in an available room in the apartment building where he resides with his elderly father and works as the superintendent. Roy makes it very clear at the onset of their friendship that he is just trying to be a good Samaritan (“I’m not interested in white chicks. I’m not!”), but there would not be much of a story here if his feelings for Lisa did not change.
Then there is Donald (Patrick Godfrey), an odd duck who creates “human parts sculptures” from various body molds of live nude models. This is more of a fetish then an art to Donald; the female body is merely a dehumanized collection of parts that exist purely for his exploitation. Donald is also Roy’s white landlord and boss — he has a checkered past of allowing female tenants to barter sexual favors in exchange for their rent. Never mind Donald’s model/girlfriend Barbara (Gina Delio), whom he exploits daily. (It is all just a white machismo power trip for Donald.)
It goes without saying, Donald is a creep with a capital “C”. So when he gets jumped and pummeled in a Salvation Army shower because he is in the “wrong neighborhood”, we do not feel any sympathy for him at all.
Lisa quickly becomes Donald’s next sexual target. But the objectification and commodification of the female body by the male gaze is nothing new to Lisa — every male in Black & White attempts to exploit her, that is except Roy. And, out of sheer necessity, Lisa has learned to use her body to earn money as a call girl.
The pre-gentrified (circa 1990-91) Lower East Side Manhattan setting allows Black and White to wax quite eloquently on race relations, sexual politics and poverty. Black and White captures the grittiness of the LES with a multi-colored backdrop populated by an assortment of bohemian artists, disenfranchised immigrants, sexual surrogates, and working class stiffs.
Directed by Boris Frumin, a Russian immigrant, Black and White is first and foremost a beautiful cultural artifact transporting us back to the days before the LES became what it is today…whatever the hell that is? Fans of Jim Jarmusch’s Permanent Vacation (1980) and Stranger Than Paradise (1984) may notice some stylistic similarities — especially in terms of acting and cinematography — though Black and White does lack that certain je ne sais quoi of Jarmusch. Facets recently released Black & White (http://www.facetsdvd.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=DV92957) on DVD.