To Tell the Truth

When you're introduced to the Williamses, the black middle-class clan about to be cut to pieces in Blind Faith, they're so stolid and familiar you imagine you understand the calamity that's about to befall them. The year is 1957 and burly patriarch Charles (Charles Dutton) is a hardworking, go-along-to-get-along cop. His brother, John (Courtney B. Vance), is a small-time lawyer looking to move up to "contracts and real estate," while Charles's son, Charlie Jr. (Garland Whitt), is too good either to be true or to survive. When Charles Sr.'s precinct calls with the news that his son has been arrested for the murder of an Irish boy in Van Cortlandt Park, the charge is as outrageous as it is sadly expected. These are black people with hopes, means, and dreams; it's no surprise their luck has run out.

The prosecutors quickly put together an open-and-shut case: Charlie Jr. just walked up to seven white boys in order to rob and strangle the largest. Despite the huge gaps in logic, at first Charles Sr. seems angriest at his son, who almost insists upon his own execution by corroborating the half-baked police chronology. John starts an impassioned defense of his nephew, but his biggest obstacle isn't the racism of judges and hooligan witnesses; it's his own brother's unwillingness to dig too deeply into what Charlie Jr. was doing in the park that night.

Director Ernest Dickerson, previously director of photography for six Spike Lee joints, handles the proceedings with impressive agility, balancing the appropriately raw performances of his able cast with blue-drenched period visuals that ache as much as they soothe. Few audience members will be surprised by the film's final turns, but credit Blind Faith for investing them with unexpected power nonetheless.

Law and order: Vance and Dutton in Blind Faith
Roxy Releasing
Law and order: Vance and Dutton in Blind Faith

Details

Blind Faith
Directed by Ernest Dickerson
Written by Frank Military
A Roxy release
At Cinema Village
Opens February 26

Freaks Uncensored
Directed by Ari Roussimoff
At the Anthology Film Archives
February 26 through 28

In Ari Roussimoff's neatly jaunty documentary Freaks Uncensored, the barker's siren song leads to a world as fully fleshed as it is bizarre. A cornucopia of archival footage grounded by interviews with the survivors and modern-day descendants of sideshows, Freaks is an encyclopedic but breezy ride that shoots from the medieval origins of the carnival to P.T. Barnum to a veritable visual menagerie of pinheads, midgets, Siamese twins, giants, bearded ladies, dog-faced boys, and more.

Many of the images are unwatchable in a medical horror-show way, but Freaks never feels exploitative, Roussimoff always eager to point out how his ever-morphing cast of real-life and made-up characters were never quite what they seemed. Freaks isn't ever gushily life-affirming, but the misty and often wry recollections of the old-timers have a warmth that lingers long after the disturbing spectacle of their bodies has faded.

 
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