Mend: a filmic mélange
“This is something I’ve been holding on to and I want to let it out,” says one of the voices in Chris Emile and Jason Kroopf’s beautiful short film Mend, a self identified “meditation on masculinity and the spaces and communities that inform a boy’s perspective on what it means to be a man.” In reflection, that seems to be the mantra of the film as a whole.
Shot in Los Angeles with camera by Arlene Muller, Mend is a filmic mélange of place, dialogue, sound design, score, and movement that navigates seamlessly from past to present and from didactic to reflective. Directed and edited by Koopf and Emile, the film is more than a dance film, venturing into documentary, experimental, and political territories, featuring Emile as both dancer and subject navigating interior and exterior worlds.
The film is rooted in suggestions of both the quotidian and the remembered, with the opening scenes and sounds of a crackling lit stove top in the dark of early morning, Emile before and through the refracted glass of a door, a frame within a frame image of him seated at a table in thought then slowly sinking to the floor and up the wall as voice over of an adult woman asks “Boy… what you doin’?” – her voice clear with a hefty hint of reprimand. Subsequent scenes take us into an iconic Black barbershop (it’s clock ticking backwards), a home, a basketball court, a church with Emile in silhouette against a screen glass window, a storefront… all beautifully lit, framed, colored, and edited, the latter place featured most notably towards the end as the film reaches a crescendo with Emile dancing beautifully and powerfully in front of it.
In dance films that are carried only by movement, voice over, sound, and score with no actual dialogue, iconic places become like characters, and Mend succeeds as a reflection on the private and the social by authentically placing Emile in these quintessential places. His performance – if it can even be called that – seems at once introspective, personal, and archetypal, taking us into interior and perhaps universal worlds with honesty and nuance.
Running just a little long at nearly nine minutes, Mend is nevertheless beautifully realized, candid, and important. As someone who loves screen dance I am happy to see the genre simultaneously succeed as film, art, moving and necessary social commentary, and even perhaps as documentary. Being a White woman, I can never truly understand what it means to be either a man or Black, but as a human being I can feel the film’s underscoring of the Black perspective and experience of growing up with the pressures and expectations that come from being both.