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Born in Flames Still Sparks Our Imagination

By Steven Pate in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 11, 2012 10:00PM

2012_01_11_borden.jpg Settling in to watch a trenchant political critique of the American social contract circa 1980 may not be at the very top of most of our to-do lists at the moment. Yet the fires of Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, a marathon Republican presidential nomination and an intractably hellish economy have heated election-year political rhetoric to just below the boiling point, and stepping back to remind ourselves how far we've come (and how far we haven't) is a great idea. Lizzie Borden's 1983 underground, radical feminist, and still-invigorating Born in Flames, showing at Cinema Borealis next Saturday, should be required viewing for anybody suggesting that any single political event, be it an election or a revolution, is the answer to all of our problems.

Born in Flames's science fiction scenario is set in New York City of the very early 1980s. America was just celebrating the tenth anniversary of its socialist revolution, and the bloom was well off the rose. Token gestures of equality and an approach to the goals of economic justice larded with more lip service than action have led to a quite disgruntled utopia. In the foreground of this provocative setting are two pirate radio station DJs: the smooth-voiced Honey, with her message of cooperation, and Radio Ragazza's Isabel, who advertises an appetite for more radical measures. The shoestring production provides a glimpse at a now-vanished New York and an attitude towards militancy that will catch many contemporary viewers off guard. (how does the setting off a bomb on the top of the World Trade center strike you for symbolism?)

Our memory of Born in Flames was jogged a couple of years ago when Kathryn Bigelow earned an Academy Award for directing The Hurt Locker, as her turn as a newspaper editor was her only feature film credit. Neither the fact that the first woman to win the Oscar for directing got her first job in a underground radical feminist work, nor the fact that 25 years elapsed between those two events, should be forgotten. The struggles depicted in Borden's film are felt waged just as strongly today, even if our discourse about them is no longer as sharp.

Born in Flames screens Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 7:00 pm at Cinema Borealis,1550 N. Milwaukee Ave., 4th Floor. Admission is $10.