In Melvin Van Peebles' homely home-video-art love-story curio, incorporating fragments of his 1982 stage musical Waltz of the Stork, the 70-something star-writer-director plays the lead role, from age 15 to 45, opposite actors who are, in every case, younger. This makes the scenes of teenaged sexual discovery particularly eyebrow-raising. Like practically everything in the movie, the device only really "works" on a theoretical level, though it's transfixing for a time, in a strange and slightly sad way. Van Peebles' unnamed protagonist narrates his life looking back from middle age, talking over re-enactments of his running away from Chicago ("itchyfoot" meaning wanderlust), escape from gangsters, Harlem domesticity, oat-sowing and pirate-fighting with the Merchant Marines, gigoloing, and a courtier gig in royal Africa. The film has a footling kind of style, emptying the whole after-effects toolbox of weird wipes, superimpositions, and solarizations. There's little concession to period detail in blithely anachronistic street scenes, and the art direction is not much more than one would expect from a backyard eighth-grade production. There's a temptation to "give" this to Van Peebles, but any scene in which actors get to interact is deathly awkward, and 100 minutes should never feel this long. (NOTE: Van Peebles will attend opening night.)
Van Peebles in his most famous role.
Runs at Northwest Film Forum, Tues., Sept. 8–Sun., Sept. 13. Not rated. 99 minutes.