Losing Ground

Losing Ground ★★★½

I really need to spend time going through my own list because I’m missing out on some gems. Losing Ground is a film that was on my radar for some time, but always somewhat out of reach due to distribution issues, among other things. But with the Criterion Channel, there’s no longer an excuse.

Collins’ 1982 feature was refreshing in a variety of ways. With its focus on the joys and pains of black intellectuals, this movie caught me by surprise. Its concerns with the inner workings of a professor named Sara Rogers and her strained relationship with her husband Victor, a womanizer and self absorbed artist, is a part of the film, but it doesn’t overtake it. Nor do his needs define Sara’s existence. She’s a woman who is as much in love with the pursuit of knowledge as she is love itself. And the two seem to go hand in hand in Sara’s world.

This pursuit drives a wedge between husband and wife as Victor, who has recently encountered some success as an artist, doesn’t seem to be interested in his wife’s scholarly pursuits. This weighs heavily on Sara who is surrounded by artistic types, but is unable to tap into that potential herself. The indifference displayed by Victor seems to mirror Collins’ own experiences as a black creative, as Sara is continually looked down upon and discounted because of this. In an interview with the now defunct Black Film Review, the director was quoted as saying that “Nobody would give any money to a black woman to direct a film. It was probably the most discouraging time of my life.” This part of her life is imitated in her art. Just as the broader public was unable to place Collins in many of the neatly defined spaces that had existed for black filmmakers up until then, neither can those on screen do the same for Sara. They sexualize her, and some, like Victor, are intimated by her. Very few get close to cracking the code though.

There’s a moment midway through the film where she agrees to appear in a student film produced by one of her pupils. And it is during this period that she begins to flourish. Her brains and beauty work hand in hand as she uses this pursuit to explore her own sexual frustrations, rid herself of a few sexual inhibitions, and obtain the “ecstasy” that seems to allude her and inhabit her free spirited husband. This topic of ecstasy is brought up quite often in the film and I’m sure that someone more intellectually minded could mine this film for its deeper meanings. But for now, I’m left feeling impressed and content with this feature concerning the black intelligentsia. And I’m craving more from Kathleen Collins. It’s a shame that she died so young. But at least we have a few films and her writings which live on.

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