The movie Born in Flames seemed almost outlandishly radical in 1983, when it came out. But now, Lizzie Borden’s movie about a feminist uprising feels even more relevant and challenging than ever. And now, you can see a restored version of it on the big screen in New York.
According to the New Yorker, a restored 35-mm print of Born in Flames is being shown tonight through Feb. 25 at Anthology Film Archives. Filmed in a DiY documentary style, Born in Flames tells the story of revolutionaries in a near-future false utopia, who broadcast their messages via pirate radio stations and punk music. When one activist dies in police custody, nobody believes it was an accident. Director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) plays one of the three women reporters at the Socialist Youth Review who investigate.
Borden constructs this large-scale social drama like a collage, with faux newscasts and talk shows, fictionalized documentary footage, police-surveillance tapes and the officials’ commentary on them, protests and confrontations, organizational meetings and strategy sessions, behind-the-scenes looks at the broadcasters Isabel and Honey on the air, musical performance, and intimate glances at private life in a time of conflict. She proves herself to be a far more imaginative and farsighted screenwriter than many celebrated Hollywood figures, because she sees the plot from a wide range of perspectives and circumstances, including one that she palpably views with hostility. Borden’s very sense of what constitutes a story, and how to realize it in images and sounds, is as radical as the social politics that she asserts.
The raw tone of her filming is nonetheless canny and precise; blunt closeups in contrasty light have a rough sculptural solidity, and the confrontational simplicity of the images evokes a rare blend of anger and analysis, affirmation and questioning. Leftism, Borden asserts, isn’t enough; a political revolution, to have any deep effect, must be a revolution in ideas and attitudes, a cultural and an intimate revolution that itself involves the media and the arts—and of which “Born in Flames” itself is an example.
We’ve called Born in Flames one of the cult movies that absolutely everyone should see, and promised that it might change your life. And we’ve described it as an important moment in 1980s science fiction history. Now here’s your chance to see it for yourself!