Thursday, July 16, 2020

Timely, literate 'Flannery' doc opens virtually at Cleveland Cinematheque

Even partridges on O'Connor's farm found their way into a few of her stories.
There's much to absorb while watching "Flannery," at times a fascinating, funny and frank documentary on the life and legacy of notable writer Flannery O'Connor.

Known mostly as a two-time novelist and purveyor of dark short stories, one of which gave actor/dancer Gene Kelly his television debut in 1957 on the "Schlitz Playhouse" series, O'Connor generally injected her work with weird spins connected to the lonely existence of growing up a devout Catholic in the very deep South. She was also a competent cartoonist and painter, and all of her talents -- and isolation -- get plenty of attention here from co-directors and writers Mark Bosco and Elizabeth Coffman.

So, too, does the deadly Lupus disease that killed her doting father, thus leaving O'Connor to base some of her most blatantly "stupid" characters on a mother who never understood much of anything her daughter wrote.

The family farm in Milledgville, Ga, the same town that houses a state psychiatric hospital (and hosted a recent unrelated doc, "Comfort Farms") plays another key role in this often strange tale. Meanwhile, marvelous narration from actress Mary Steenburgen and pertinent comments from celebs such as Tommy Lee Jones and Conan O'Brien should help fill in gaps for the uninitiated.

Most importantly to the here and now, charges of racism in some of O'Connor's work might be erased with the documentary's visible support from black writers Hilton Als and Alice Walker, both Pulitzer Prize winners.

On Friday, viewers themselves get to judge "Flannery," which late last year earned the first-ever Library of Congress/Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film, when it arrives on virtual screens nationwide. The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque will stream it through Aug. 13, including a companion virtual discussion series.

Not rated by the MPAA; 1:37; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

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