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UWM Experimental Tuesdays

Mr. Freedom by Jeremy Berg

Two out of three ain’t bad. The UWM Union Theatre’s Experimental Tuesdays series got off to a topical start on February 17 with a triple bill that featured William Klein’s Mr. Freedom, Tadasu Takamine’s God Bless America, and a set by The Paragraphs. The headliner, Mr. Freedom, is part satire that takes itself seriously and part black comedy that isn’t funny. Filmed in 1967-8 by William Klein, it follows the adventures of the titular superhero/government agent who works for Freedom, Inc. and wears a suit made out of red, white, and blue athletic apparel. Though it begins as an over-the-top satire, the movie quickly degenerates into a didactic attack on the right and Cold War politics. Apparently, no one ever told Klein to show, not tell, especially when you’re making a movie, and there are several long stretches of not very clever satirical dialogue concerning politics. There are tonal problems as well. For something that’s supposed to be laughable, there are a number of extremely nasty scenes, including one in which Mr. Freedom’s base operatives begin the day by fighting, choking, and gang-raping each other. True, part of what gives satire and black comedy their bite is the ability to suddenly become unpleasant, but Mr. Freedom isn’t really about anything and lacks a plot, so its escalating unpleasantness does nothing but make it more unpleasant to watch. Mr. Freedom does have one clever moment: a speech by Mr. Freedom that manages to run a number of contradictory and/or nonsensical right wing and American myth cliches together. Taken with a few of the working scenes it might have made half-decent short. Unfortunately, Mr. Freedom runs for 100 minutes, making its lack of structure an unsolvable problem. Hardest of all to take is Klein’s we’re-right-they’re-wrong attitude. Mr. Freedom doesn’t set out to prove anything or offer solutions, and watching any target, no matter how deserving, serve as a witless punching bag for over an hour can only appeal to those as smugly self-righteous as Klein himself. For all it wants to be, Mr. Freedom lacks the insight and enjoyability of a single Bob Dylan or Ani DiFranco song, and it is as stupid, brutish, tasteless, and thoughtless as that which it seeks to satirize. Far better were the opening acts of the evening, The Paragraphs and God Bless America. The Paragraphs, “Milwaukee’s premiere found-text band,” are currently performing George W. Bush’s War on Terror speech dressed as Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Powell. Here is satire done right, and with rocking music to boot. The performance was capped with a press conference that used samples of Bush speeches, judiciously re-cut, and a striptease by “our president.” God Bless America was more about the relationship between artist and creation, though it did feature a two-ton clay head singing the title song over and over. The head starts out looking like George W. Bush, but constantly shifts shape. Sometimes the artists, who live in the room with the head, are seen working on it; sometimes it seems to shift by itself while they sleep, wander around, have sex, eat breakfast, and various other daily events, all sped up to match the animation speed. Though I found the main feature to be a bust, UWM’s Experimental Tuesday series has nonetheless lived up to its name with an eclectic, mixed media program. Check out the Currents Community Calendar for future offerings.
Mr. Freedom