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Imaginary Heroes Fail to Breathe Life into The Battle of Pussy Willow Creek

What if a forgotten, even suppressed, battle of the Civil War had been won against all odds by four outlandish "freaks" of their day—a gay colonel, a female prostitute disguised as a drummer boy, a biracial ex-slave who's a whiz at engineering, and an elderly Chinese immigrant who interprets the I Ching for battle strategy? The mock-historical documentary The Battle of Pussy Willow Creek must have seemed an irresistibly clever inspiration to writer/director Wendy Jo Cohen, and that premise should also appeal to any audience with even a smidgen of alternative consciousness. But despite Civil War homages—hazy vistas, silhouetted cannons, and even the famous Ken Burns pan over still photos—the imaginary heroes never spring to life. Maybe it's that the antiqued memorabilia and photos are too fabulously faux to be passed off as "found footage." (They instead invite distracting "how'd they do that" conjectures.) Or maybe it's that the parody of PBS-style talking-head interviews is too over-the-top, excepting a snappy satire of a feminist revisionist view of events and Biraj Lala's turn as a believable Ph.D. As it wraps up, Pussy Willow Creekgoes all surrealistic and slightly slaphappy, but even a spoofy mock doc requires a maybe/could-be mimetic moment drawing you in—something like Christopher Guest's rocker Nigel in This Is Spinal Tap bitching about his dressing-room food.


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