366 UNDERGROUND: FAITH OF OUR FATHERS (1997)

DIRECTED BY: Hamilton Sterling

FEATURING: Jeff Hawk, George Gerlernter, James Geralden, Cassandra Joy, Noel Webb, Clement Blake

PLOT: A satiric parable wherein naive innocent chimney-sweeper Charles is schooled in the ways of the world and business by a cynical benefactor, Nick, who encourages him to bring back the tradition of ‘climbing boys’ when a rich client expresses a wish for ‘the old days’. Charles complies with the exploitation of a child, but at a cost to himself and those around him.

IS IT WEIRD?:  Not really. Pretentious, certainly; but there’s nothing new brought to the table in terms of weirdness.

COMMENTS:  At first glance, Faith of Our Fathers appears to be very timely and prescient, considering that the film was completed in 1996, went out on the festival circuit where it did get some very good critical notice but no release until 2013, when it could be seen as an “I-told-you-so” roadmap to the current economic/political/cultural climate (much like how Richard Brooks’ reviled Wrong is Right from 1982 turned out to be a not-that-exaggerated look at what the Millennium-Ought decade held in store for everyone). It’s really hard to fault the filmmakers’ intentions, as there is a concerted effort on everyone’s part to make this a meaningful project.

Faith of Our FathersUnfortunately, for me those intentions fall short in the experience of watching this play out. I suspect those who would enjoy watching this film would also be rabid fans of hardcore European arthouse/symbolism films, which are usually very slowly paced, populated with metaphors instead of characters and degrees of inscrutability. My failure to connect here is probably a failing of the viewer. It’s a film that I really wanted to like, especially since items like composition, nuanced acting and craftsmanship are usually in short supply in the majority of work that gets the “Underground” label. But honestly, I just couldn’t enjoy it, despite the impressive craft on display (the cinematography, score, and a performance by Gerlernter as fallen priest/satanic provocateur Nicholas Nickelby).

It also doesn’t help when you have this as your logline:

” …this surreal and politically prescient film deconstructs the language of religious and economic America, finding artistic alternatives within the ethos of art.”

If this sentence gets you pumped to see what might follow, instead of rolling your eyes from the stench of pretension, then you’ll enjoy the journey. Much as I wanted to, I couldn’t get past it—so fair warning.

Faith of Our Fathers was self-released by writer/director Hamilton Sterling on DVD and Blu-ray, and the presentation is of very high-quality. One thing missing is a director’s commentary, which I think really would’ve helped—not that Sterling would’ve needed to spoonfeed us every single symbol in the film, but some context certainly would’ve been appreciated, especially explanations for the jumping back and forth between color and black and white, and sequences such as the one where one of the main characters has a dialogue with Napoleon Bonaparte in the park.

Helikon Sound – Hamilton Sterling’s site. Sterling has worked as a sound tech on films like Magnolia, The Tree of Life, Gangs of New York, and The Dark Knight, amongst others.

Faith of Our Fathers Facebook page

5 thoughts on “366 UNDERGROUND: FAITH OF OUR FATHERS (1997)”

  1. Hello Mr Hubbard,

    Thank you for watching my film. Perhaps the logline misrepresented my intentions. Maybe a clearer statement would be: ” …this surreal and politically prescient film deconstructs the language of religious and economic America, finding alternatives within the language of art.” For me, a life viewing and making artistic representations seemed to be the best way to live within these corrupt structures; that no matter how damaging the present society, at least there might be a way to make sense of it, and distill it into a form that communicates. The last shot of the film shows the damaged child creating one of humankind’s earliest sculptures, the music accompanying her is the earliest written music from ancient Greece. For me that is hope. It is true that the European art film has always been inspiring to me. You read that well. Poetry, elision, dream have been more meaningful to me that narrative. To each his own.

  2. Maybe I will create a shot by shot commentary for this site! :-) Perhaps then you could see that there was no pretense. That every shot and cut in the film was thought out to the nth degree. And since you have seen that the film communicates the present from twenty-plus years in the past, I’m at a loss as to the label pretentious, which would mean that it didn’t communicate at all, or that it was just all “in my head”. The main problem, as I see it, is that setting out to make a film against the system necessitates a change in the traditional structure of story, and that always feels strange to the viewer. It’s a basic dilemma of trying to do something that undermines the societal narrative, while still carrying the viewer along. Making form part of the content is always dangerous, if one is trying, for the sake of one’s viewpoint, to break with tradition.

  3. Shot during the Gulf War, this surreal and politically prescient film deconstructs the language of religious and economic America, finding alternatives within the language of art.

    Faith of Our Fathers follows a cynical stranger who gives a lesson in capitalism’s brutal nature to a naïve young man lost in the American dream. Alternating between black and white and color, we sink into the dislocations of this dream as an artist/interviewer struggles to understand the relationship between religion and capital.

    The film ends with a creative act echoing back to our earliest purpose, to understand the world through art.

    Now available to rent on Vimeo on Demand: http://vimeo.com/ondemand/faithofourfathers/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *