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From Jersey With Love

Brad Garrison

Chasing Chasing Amy (2023)

Art does unpredictable work at a distance, one reason among several to leave it where it is no matter what you might personally think or what its makers get up to. In the case of Sav Rodgers, suffering through an unhappy late-2000s high school education in Kansas and the casual homophobia of fellow students, Kevin Smith's then-decade-old 1997 film, "Chasing Amy," became comfort food, lifeline and object of fascination. "Chasing Chasing Amy" is the very personal story of how Mr. Smith's film - the one in which New Jersey comic-book writer Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) is smitten with Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams) and loses his bearings when he hears that she is a lesbian - worked the spell that art can work, closing the gap between a viewer and everything outside despite the movie's own flaws or nature. Having waited for its moment to spring into someone's life disguised as a VHS tape, Mr. Smith's work proceeded to change that life, the right tool in the right place.

In the process three separate documentary strands emerge. One is about Mr. Rodgers, now the director of this film, whose gender fluidity the film can be excused for not spelling out too explicitly since a key moment takes place almost within sight of the cameras. In the course of an interview with Mr. Smith about the film and its depiction of a lesbian character, the documentary cameras are turned off so that Mr. Rodgers can tell his interviewee on the spur of the moment that he, Mr. Rodgers, is transitioning to a transgender man but does not wish to come out publicly. This is conveyed by a caption, and by the end of "Chasing Chasing Amy" the knowledge is public; but from about the 30 minute mark Mr. Rodgers chooses to let his own guard down completely, his transition partially opened up by an encounter with a film but then aided by a network of family and a loving partner who ultimately becomes a wife. It goes without saying that not everyone on the same path is equally supported, or in a position to present it in a context like this one.

"Chasing Amy" itself, raved about by Roger Ebert and Quentin Tarantino, was part of a mid-1990s moment of high lesbian visibility; and the film shows its age in multiple ways, not least Holden McNeil's straight white gaze. "Any aspect that was ahead of its time has long since been overtaken by history to the point where it's problematic now," says Mr. Smith, aware that all the empathy for lesbianism that he could distil from the moment could only be second-hand info, now maybe a cause for suspicion. ("Chasing Amy's" gay black character is mentioned in passing but the documentary hurries on.) But ever since it came out, and here still, "Chasing Amy's" heart is recognized to be correctly positioned. Couched behind Mr. Smith's freewheeling dialogue and the mildly misbegotten goatee of Mr. Affleck, the film's clumsy good faith has something to say about heterosexuality, too; and perhaps slightly by accident something about bisexuality, a much touchier subject at the time than the trendy sapphic lifestyle being discovered by pop culture.

But some subjects really were untouchable. "Chasing Amy" was distributed by Miramax and championed by Harvey Weinstein at Sundance 1997, just as Mr. Weinstein was abusing his power over Rose McGowan in the same venue at the same time. Mr. Smith mentions the Weinstein-shaped shadow hanging over this film and himself; although what should he say, in the context of a documentary about how his film helped Mr. Rodgers find a way to go on living when one was needed? Another can of worms is opened almost by accident, when Ms. Adams discusses the film at length in terms of her difficult romantic relationship with Mr. Smith at the time and the Weinstein toxins polluting the atmosphere. Mr. Rodgers, novice documentarian or not, making a film about himself or not, has the good instincts to let Ms. Adams talk and then put a lot of it on screen. "I don't like looking back on that time," she says, sentiments put next to beaming joyous press interviews from 26 years ago. "I still carry what they put on me." The film made under this yoke of sour tension and permanent scarring none the less elevated Mr. Rodgers from one plane of his life to another. But that's art for you.


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