Frownland at the Dryden

I headed out to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Frownland. I was reluctant (and, in fact, Ali passed on it entirely) because we had both seen The Pawnbroker the night before. The Pawnbroker, while a powerful movie about the lifetime of suffering the Holocaust caused, it fell a little flat as I had already explored those issues; so in other words, if I had seen the movie at an earlier time in my life, I would have been blown away, but now it was just an exercise in excellent movie-making. The Eastman House calendar seemed to imply that Frownland would be similar to The Pawnbroker — largely because the central characters in each movie is at best unlikeable, and at worst, intolerable.

I was glad to be pleasantly surprised. While I guess it's not incorrect to describe Frownland's central character, Keith as a "chain-smoking, stammering, excessively needy, terribly annoying, yet fascinating nobody," I gravitated toward the more concise description that he's the personification of insecurity. He's cripplingly so, in fact, yet not through any definable mental illness — while he'd most certainly benefit from some form of psychological therapy, he appears to be only circumstantially dysfunctional. What I mean is that he would probably be able to function if it weren't for his antagonistically unsympathetic roommate, his door-to-door job, or the simple fact of being so unavoidably exposed to people by living in New York City.

Filmmaker Ronald Bronstein was there to discuss his film. He's a remarkably articulate guy — particularly when it comes to his understanding of his own work on this particular movie. He was drawing from his own insecure times in New York, and from the insidious nature of insecurity. He gave the analogy to hunger: that hunger's solution — eating — is not blocked by being hungry, whereas insecurity's solution — self-confidence — is blocked by insecurity: you're unable to develop meaningful relationships with others and ultimately it's only through innovative lateral thinking that you can build self-confidence.

So in a way, it's kind of a horror movie: a man trapped in an insecure mental state and who seems to be permanently so. Curiously, Bronstein worked on Frownland for 6 years whenever he was able to afford more film, and he found it challenging to keep touch with the very idea of this constant state of insecurity.

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